DON’T FLUNK THE REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION TEST « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


Compton School District Failed to Accommodate Disabled Teacher

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) requires employers with five or more on payroll to engage in an “interactive process” with a worker requesting accommodation of a disability.    The employer must have timely, good faith and ongoing discussions to explore if and how to reasonably accommodate the  physically or mentally disabled worker’s ability  to perform the essential functions of his or her job. Failure to do so can be a costly error.

On April 24, 2018, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing  (DFEH) announced that it settled a reasonable accommodation case with the Compton Unified School District (Compton Unified) for more than $200,000.

Complainant worked as an elementary school teacher for 16 years. She had allegedly asked for accommodation because she could not physically reach above shoulder level.  After a brief meeting, Compton Unified concluded “that writing on the board is an essential function of teaching second grade and that the complainant could not be accommodated.” She had to remain on leave until she was eventually terminated.

In response, the teacher filed a DFEH complaint alleging that Compton Unified refused to provide reasonable accommodation for her disability.

DFEH Director Kevin Kish stated in the press release: “When employees have disability-related restrictions, the law requires an interactive process, and that process is more than a short meeting without discussion of possible accommodations.”

Employers should always proceed with caution when responding to an employee’s request for disability accommodation.  This includes properly engaging in an ongoing, thorough, fair and well-documented interactive process that identifies various potential accommodations and determines the strengths and weaknesses of each one.

The employer is only justified in refusing to reasonably accommodate the disabled employee where accommodation choices would legitimately impose undue hardship. The undue hardship standard is difficult to satisfy and the employer should consult with competent and experienced legal counsel before making that determination.

For further information, please contact Tim Bowles, Cindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.

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Cindy Bamforth

May 9, 2018