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Failure to Accommodate Commuting Needs May Violate ADA

    Client Alerts
  • April 16, 2010

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation to allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. A new case from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals discusses whether this accommodation obligation extends to measures intended to allow the employee to get back and forth from work.

In Colwell v. Rite Aid Corp., the plaintiff was a cashier who developed glaucoma, and as a result was restricted from driving at night. She requested a change to day shift work to accommodate this limitation. In denying the request, Rite Aid took the position that the ADA's accommodation obligations do not extend to measures that involve driving outside of working time, because commuting is not an essential job function.

The Third Circuit reversed a grant of summary judgment for the employer, remanding the case for jury trial. The court adopted the EEOC's reasoning on this point, rejecting decisions from other federal courts that have not required accommodation of commuting needs. If shift changes are reasonable accommodations, they are usually made as the result of some problem the disabled employee faces outside of working time. Under certain circumstances, the employer's accommodation obligation extends to helping the employee to get to work.

This decision may be limited in application because the only accommodation requested involved a readily accomplishable shift change. Other employee requests, such as shuttle service to and from work would not ordinarily fall within an employer's reasonable accommodation obligations.