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The Consequences of Failing to Reasonably Accommodate Worker Disability

What happens when an employer ignores requests from a disabled employee for reasonable accommodation? In one recent case, a $3 million jury verdict was the result.

Caltrans analyst, John Barrie, sued his employer for failure to accommodate his severe allergies to chemicals, such as cleaning agents and perfumes. Although Caltrans initially accommodated Barrie, it was informal and not put in writing. Then as management changed, his new supervisor reportedly ignored his requests to maintain the previously-granted accommodations.

Employers have a duty to explore and provide reasonable accommodation to disabled employees. See, Employers Duties to Reasonably Accommodate Worker Disabilities (May, 2015). Additionally, employers have an ongoing obligation to provide reasonable accommodation. Even one improper denial of the accommodation can result in legal liability.

For example, despite Mr. Barrie’s reminders of his condition, a new supervisor evidently moved him to a recently painted location full of fumes.

To make matters worse, Barrie’s management and co-workers allegedly harassed him for making accommodation requests, including repeatedly dousing his workspace in perfume.

The jury concluded that Caltrans stunk at protecting this disabled employee from harassment and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). See, California’s Anti-Discrimination Legislation.

Therefore, best practices dictate that an employer should:

  • Document all requests for reasonable accommodation.
  • Document when and what accommodations it provided to the employee.
  • Ensure managers or supervisors are made aware of and continue to provide the approved accommodations.
  • Monitor the situation to ensure continued compliance.

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

Cindy Bamforth

June 28, 2017