The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with protected disabilities. Another part of the ADA requires employers to refrain from discriminating against disabled people. Last week, the full Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that these two employee protections are separate, meaning that plaintiffs do not need to demonstrate criteria necessary for a discrimination claim to prove that they should recover damages after being denied a reasonable accommodation.
In Exby-Stolley v. Board of County Commrs., Weld Co., Colorado, the plaintiff alleged that her employer failed to provide a requested accommodation in response to a broken arm that made it more difficult for her to get her work done. A three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit held in a 2-1 decision that the lawsuit was properly dismissed because the plaintiff failed to show that she suffered an adverse employment action, such as termination or demotion, as a result of the accommodation denial. She appealed this decision to the full Tenth Circuit, which reversed and remanded the case for additional proceedings.
The court distinguished between the standards for proving ADA discrimination and failure to accommodate claims. For the latter, failure to accommodate violates the ADA even if the employees cannot demonstrate that the failure leads to some materially negative impact on their job status. The failure to provide accommodations can prevent disabled employees from fulfilling their professional potential and, therefore, serves as an independent ADA violation.