Disability Discrimination (Failure to Accommodate) Claim Sufficiently Alleged Against NY Health & Hospitals Corp.

In Cruz v. City of New York et al, No. 21-cv-1999, 2021 WL 5605139 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 30, 2021), the court, inter alia, held that plaintiff stated claims for disability discrimination in the form of a failure to accommodate under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL).

The court explained the law as follows:

The ADA prohibits discrimination against a qualified individual in the terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). This provision requires employers to take certain affirmative steps to assist employees with disabilities, which include reasonably accommodating the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of its business.

To state a claim that her employer has failed to accommodate her disability in violation of the ADA, Cruz must allege facts tending to show that (1) she is a person with a disability under the meaning of the statute in question; (2) an employer covered by the statute had notice of his disability; (3) with reasonable accommodation, plaintiff could perform the essential functions of the job at issue; and (4) the employer has refused to make such accommodations. NYSHRL failure to accommodate claims are governed by the same legal standards as federal ADA claims. That standard also applies to NYCHRL failure to accommodate claims.

Where the employee’s disability is known to the employer, the ADA envisions an interactive process by which employers and employees work together to assess whether an employee’s disability can be reasonably accommodated. There is no freestanding right of action under the ADA or NYSHRL for failure to engage in an interactive process. Rather, an employer’s failure to engage in a good faith interactive process can be introduced as evidence tending to show disability discrimination. Under the NYCHRL, however, an employer’s failure to engage in an interactive process is independently actionable.

[Citations and internal quotation marks omitted; cleaned up.]

The court next applied the law to the facts. Its analysis underscores that this is not the juncture at which to address or resolve factual issues:

Cruz went on medical leave in March of 2016. Her doctors cleared her to return to work as of December 2018, but she was never offered another position at HHC and to this day has not returned to work. The complaint adequately pleads that Cruz is disabled for purposes of each of the statutes under which she brings suit. It also adequately pleads that the defendants with whom she interacted in 2018 and thereafter had notice of her disability. Cruz identifies four accommodations that she needed upon re-entering the HHC workforce. Cruz alleges that beginning in 2018 the defendants discriminated against her by failing to reinstate her in any clerical position that would accommodate her disabilities.

The defendants argue that they have engaged in a good faith interactive process with Cruz and that the complaint does not suggest otherwise. This motion to dismiss is not the occasion to explore the extent to which an employer must accommodate an employee’s disability by assisting the employee to locate a job within its organization. See Noll v. International Business Machines Corp., 787 F.3d 89, 94 (2d Cir. 2015) (“The reasonableness of an employer’s accommodation is a fact-specific question that often must be resolved by a factfinder.” (citation omitted)). The defendants do not contend that there is no suitable job for Cruz within HHC. Whether Cruz or HHC or both failed to exert sufficient efforts to find a clerical position for Cruz that accommodates her disabilities must await discovery.

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