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Employee's Resignation in Midst of Interactive Accommodation Process Dooms ADA Claim

    Client Alerts
  • January 23, 2015
Employers understand that in the event that an employee requests a workplace accommodation due to a disability, they are legally required to explore the accommodation with the employee through the “interactive process.” Failure to engage in this process that results in rejection of a reasonable accommodation violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. What happens, however, when the employee refuses to fully participate in the process? According to a new case from the First Circuit Court of Appeals, quitting during the accommodation process bars a later ADA claim.

The plaintiff in EEOC v. Kohl’s Dep’t Stores, Inc. experienced medical issues relating to the effect of inconsistent working hour on her diabetes. Her doctor recommended that she have regularly scheduled hours in order to allow her to better manage her blood sugar levels. In its meeting with the employee to discuss the request, the employer’s supervisor responded that it could not schedule her to avoid the swing in her shifts, but would explore other possible accommodations. This response upset the plaintiff who said that she was quitting and abruptly left the meeting. The EEOC sued on her behalf for failure to provide a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

In a 2-1 decision, the First Circuit affirmed dismissal of the complaint. The majority opinion stated that the plaintiff had an obligation to participate in the accommodation process, even when the employer had denied her initial request. She failed to give the employer the opportunity to explore other accommodation possibilities. The dissenting judge noted that Kohl’s headquarters had already approved the regular schedule, and that the employer should not be rewarded for its manager’s hardball tactics.

When discussing possible workplace accommodations, employers should keep careful records of the process, including the employee’s participation, and openness to discussions of alternate accommodations. If the employee stops participating in the process, the employer should document this, and provide the employee with an opportunity to reengage before making a final decision to deny the accommodation.