A new unpublished opinion from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reminds employers that their obligation to provide disabled persons with reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act does not limit them to considering requests made by the employee. In Sessoms v. The Trustees of the Univ. of Penn., the plaintiff alleged that she developed physical and mental disabilities following her mother’s death and subsequent mistreatment by her supervisor. After taking FMLA leave, the plaintiff requested certain part-time hours and transfer away from her supervisor. As an alternative, the employer offered a different part-time schedule but at the same job. The plaintiff declined this offer, and the defendant subsequently terminated her employment.
The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of the plaintiff’s ADA failure to accommodate claim. The court noted long-standing case law supporting the proposition that employers are required to provide a reasonable accommodation under the ADA – but not necessarily the accommodation favored by the employee. As long as the measures offered were effective and did not have some punitive impact on the employee or her career, the employer was entitled to limit its offer to its own proposal.
In addition, the Third Circuit noted case law confirming that ADA accommodations do not require employers to remove employees from certain supervisors. This is not defined as an accommodation of a disabling condition. In this case, the defendant was helped by the fact that the alternate part-time positions requested by the plaintiff did not appear to exist. Employers are not required under the ADA to create new positions for employees, although they may need to transfer a disabled employee to an alternative vacant existing job. Careful attention to and documentation of the ADA interactive process can help employers demonstrate that they acted reasonably in considering and responding to employee requests for accommodation.