Employer provided accommodation doctor suggested, so trainer's Rehab Act claim failed
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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Employer provided accommodation doctor suggested, so trainer's Rehab Act claim failed

By Brandi O. Brown, J.D. An employee's doctor asked that he be exempt from prolonged standing or "considerable physical exertion" and the employer's offered accommodation—which gave him the ability to conduct workshops while sitting down—addressed those needs, a federal district court in New York ruled. Granting summary judgment against the employee's disability claims under the Rehab Act, the court found that the employee did not offer evidence that his desired accommodation—complete exemption from teaching duties—had any nexus to his documented needs (Quadir v. New York State Department of Labor, June 29, 2016, Oetken, J.). Accommodated but not exempted. The employee worked at a state facility assisting job seekers and teaching workshops. In February 2011, he asked to be exempt from duties that required him to stand for long periods of time because he was suffering from fatigue, lightheadedness and other symptoms and wanted to ascertain the nature of his illness. Because the workshops typically required prolonged standing, he was temporarily exempted from his teaching duties. One year later, the employer declined to offer further exemptions, but offered to provide suitable equipment and room placement to allow the employee to conduct training while sitting down. He filed a complaint with the state's human rights division. Later he filed suit alleging that the failure to grant the accommodation he requested was actionable under the Rehabilitation Act. The employer moved for summary judgment. Reasonable accommodation provided. The employee claimed his disability prevented him from standing for prolonged periods and affected his ability to project his voice or to concentrate when dealing with more than one individual at a time. He argued that only full exemption from teaching duties would accommodate his disability. However, the evidence showed that the documentation (doctors’ notes) he provided to the employer only supported his need to be exempt from standing for prolonged periods and from "considerable physical exertion." Although the employee contended that he submitted another doctor’s note that asked that he also be excused from public speaking, he did not provide that note to the court or cite evidence supporting his claim that he provided it to the employer. The accommodation extended by the employer, the court explained, would have addressed the issues raised in the notes that he did submit. Discrimination claim also fails. As to the claim that the employer discriminated against the employee based on his disability (he was eventually diagnosed with major depressive disorder) the court found that the employee failed to show he suffered a materially adverse employment action on that basis. The actions of which he complained—counseling memos, annual evaluations, denial of pay for one day, denial of leave, and placement on full restrictions—were not adverse employment actions. The counseling memos were not disciplinary sanctions and the evaluations did not involve a material change in the terms and conditions of employment. Moreover, the employee conceded he was not entitled to pay for President's Day and he failed to show he was denied leave to which he was entitled. While he was placed on full restriction—he had to provide medical documentation for absences—he failed to show more than inconvenience. Retaliation claim. Finally, the court concluded that the employee's retaliation claim also failed. Even under the less demanding standard for an adverse employment action, the evidence was not sufficient to make out a prima facie case. Even if it were, the employee failed to show that the employer’s reasons for its actions were pretext. The requirement that the employee provide documentation to support absences furthered a legitimate goal in light of the employee's spotty attendance record. In a one-year period he was absent 92 days and he was tardy 145 days. Furthermore, the employer's efforts to counsel him on those problems pre-dated his request for accommodation. Although his supervisor testified that, before the employee insisted that he would continue to arrive late due to illness the supervisor had been more lenient and thereafter he went "by the book," thereafter, the supervisor also testified that he documented all workers' tardiness "by the book."

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