Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), a person with a disability (within the meaning of the ADA) must be given “reasonable accommodations,” unless the employer can show “undue hardship.” What is “reasonable,” and does it include every accommodation that an employee requests?
In a recent case arising out of a federal appeals court in Virginia, Fink v. Richmond, the employee-teacher suffered terribly from a condition which required surgery in which her stomach replaced her esophagus under her throat, causing her to be unable to bend, lift any weight, eat a large meal, or to be inaccessible to a bathroom. The school district reassigned her so that she did not have to lift or bend, had access to a nearby bathroom, could take short breaks and could eat snacks during her class periods.
The employee nonetheless claimed that she was not given reasonable accommodations because she was not, among other things, given a “fixed” classroom, as she requested.
The court held that the teacher was indeed disabled. However, it ruled against her because, it said, the employer reasonably and sufficiently accommodated her disability, even if it did not accede to all her requests. The lower court stated that the teacher’s “objection … amounted to a mere job complaint,” and that the employer is “only required to offer a reasonable accommodation, not the perfect or [the employee’s] preferred accommodation.” The appeals court agreed, stating that the law does not “require that an employer provide a disabled employee with a perfect accommodation or an accommodation most preferable to the employee.”