Employers know that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires them in some circumstances to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees. How long do employers have to make such accommodations available after they have been requested? A new case from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals indicates that this process can last months as long as the employer diligently pursues compliance with the interactive accommodation requirement.
Cloe v. Indianapolis involved a city employee who developed multiple sclerosis. Among other things, in July 2008 she requested a parking space closer to the office and a personal printer that would cut down on her need to walk to a printing station. The city provided the printer within a month of the request. She was provided with a series of unsuccessful alternate parking arrangements before being assigned a permanent space in her building's lot in December 2008. After being terminated, the plaintiff sued, claiming that the employer unreasonably delayed the eventual accommodations.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the city on this part of the claim. The court noted that the employer had conducted the kind of interactive accommodation process contemplated under the ADA. The fact that initial accommodation attempts were not successful does not mean that the city knew or should have known that they would not work. When made aware of problems encountered by the plaintiff, the city promptly moved to another attempted solution. In terms of the printer, the court gave public employers some leeway with regard to expenditure of taxpayer funds. The ADA did not require that the city immediately buy a printer for the plaintiff.
This case demonstrates that the accommodation process does not always run smoothly. This will not present legal problems for the employer under the ADA if it (1) exercises reasonable diligence in pursuing solutions; and (2) documents these efforts and internal deliberations in the event of a later claim that it did not provide timely and adequate accommodations.