Reasonable Accommodation Under the Americans With Disabilities Act

In Casteel v. Charter Communications, Inc., No. C13-5520 RJB (W.D. Wash. Oct. 23, 2014), a federal judge in Western Washington denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment under the Americans with Disabilities Act despite the fact that the employee has been unable to work since July 2009.

The employer hired Mary Casteel in September 2007. In November 2008, she fell ill and was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. She requested and was granted intermittent leave under the FMLA or Family Medical Leave Act. In July 2009, Casteel was diagnosed with a form of cancer and started chemotherapy. She requested a medical leave from July 14 to August 15 to undergo treatment. Her doctor certified that her anticipated return date was August 15. She was not able to return on that date and her doctor extended her return date. Because the company’s policy was not to grant more than two 30-day leaves in a twelve-month period, the employer terminated Casteel’s employment.

While it is true that indefinite leave is not a reasonable accommodation, Casteel suit, alleged that Charter violated the ADA by not granting her additional unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation. The employer filed for summary judgment on Casteel’s ADA claim. The employer argued that the only accommodation that existed was an indefinite leave, which is unreasonable. The District Court denied the motion and pointed out that employer did not attempt to clarify whether a February 2010 return date provided by her doctor was incorrect or speculative. The District Court ruled that the employer could not only rely on its maximum leave policy to terminate employment without considering whether a reasonable accommodation would be appropriate. Because there was a dispute concerning whether granting additional leave would have been a reasonable accommodation, the the District Court refused to dismiss Casteel’s claim as a matter of law. In addition, the Order noted that if an additional leave would have been a reasonable accommodation, the ADA places the burden on the employer to show that an accommodation would be an undue hardship.

This is a very interesting case and hopefully other courts will analyze the ADA in a similar fashion.

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