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Sixth Circuit: ADA Does Not Require “On-The-Spot Accommodations” of the Employee’s Choosing

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On November 30, 2018, the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals held that an employer did not violate the Americans With Disabilities Act by sending an employee home while engaging in an interactive process with her regarding possible accommodations, rather than immediately placing her in a job within her doctor’s work restrictions.  In Brumley v. United Parcel Service, Inc., Case. No. 18-5453, Brumley, a Tennessee UPS package sorter and part time driver, injured her back while working.  After receiving worker’ compensation benefits and being allowed to work in a 30-day light duty position, Brumley went on temporary disability leave.  Brumley later attempted to return to work with physician notes containing permanent work restrictions precluding Brumley from driving and imposing lifting restrictions below the requirements of the sorter and driver positions.  Brumley’s supervisor sent her home but advised her that she could receive work accommodations to account for her restrictions.

After Brumley filed a grievance with her union for not being permitted to work with her permanent restrictions, UPS informed Brumley that it was initiating an internal “interactive process”.  UPS asked Brumley for a medical information release and a completed medical information form from her doctor, so UPS could evaluate Brumley’s restrictions and identify possible accommodations.  After Brumley returned the completed forms to UPS, UPS met with Brumley, advising her that UPS would review her restrictions and try to find an appropriate position she could fill.  Brumley, however, said she desired to discontinue the interactive process and return to her doctor to have him remove her restrictions.  Brumley then met with her doctor who removed her restrictions, and she returned to full duty.  UPS then closed the ADA interactive process.

Even though Brumley had returned to her regular position, she sued UPS under the ADA for disability discrimination, seeking damages for the limited period she had had not been allowed to work during the interactive process.  The district court granted summary judgment to UPS and the Sixth Circuit affirmed that decision, making the following points:

  • The ADA does not obligate employers to make “on-the-spot accommodations” of the employee’s choosing.  An employer’s refusal to provide an accommodation to the position of the employee’s choice immediately upon the employee’s request is not, in and of itself, a failure to accommodate under the ADA.
  • When an employee seeks an accommodation, both parties have a duty to participate in good faith in the interactive process to identify potential reasonable accommodations of the employee’s disability.  If the employer engages in a meaningful dialogue and does not demonstrate absence of good faith (e.g., cause unnecessary delays, obstruct the process, or fail to adequately communicate or provide information), the employer has discretion to provide a reasonable accommodation as identified during the interactive process.

If you’re an employer in Tennessee or elsewhere facing a complex issue related to employees with disabilities, or a discrimination or wrongful termination claim, obtain professional and thorough legal assistance by contacting the Law Offices of Cary Schwimmer at 901-753-5537 or visiting our website at schwimmerfirm.com.  Our office address is 1661 International Place Drive, Suite 400, Memphis, TN 38120.

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