Some lessons about the ADA

We can learn three things from a recent federal court decision involving the termination of a school counselor, who alleged that she was the victim of disability-based discrimination.

First, it’s tough to make yourself the victim of discrimination when the school gives you everything you asked for.  As the court noted, “Plaintiff does not seriously dispute that she received accommodations for her ailments at all times relevant to this controversy.” When the counselor requested accommodations due to some health issues, the principal responded within 30 minutes that she would “gladly accommodate anything [Plaintiff’s] health requires.”  The principal not only made that general offer, she provided specifics, including a promise to personally cover the classroom for the counselor when needed.

Second, accommodating an employee’s disability requires an “interactive process.” But the employee cannot gripe about the lack of that process if it was the employee who threw the monkey wrench into the system. Here, the court cited an earlier decision for the notion that “An employer cannot be found to have violated the ADA when responsibility for the breakdown of the ‘informal, interactive process’ is traceable to the employee and not the employer.”

Third, it’s acceptable for the employer to require some documentation to help it figure out how to accommodate the employee.  In this case, the employee’s health problems were not readily apparent or obvious.  This is not like a case where the employee is in a wheelchair, or wearing dark glasses and walking with a cane.  This employee had diabetes, plantar fasciitis and intermittent vertigo. The school asked for some documentation to better understand the situation.  The court found that to be reasonable.

The school eventually sought termination of the counselor’s employment, citing ten reasons for this.  The independent hearing examiner found enough evidence to justify termination based on seven of those reasons.  The examiner concluded that the working relationship between the parties was “irretrievably broken.”

This suit, alleging ADA-discrimination followed. The court granted a summary judgment to the district, finding no merit in the ADA claim. The case is Eubank v. Lockhart ISD, decided by the federal court for the Western District of Texas on January 17, 2017.

This case also involved First Amendment issues which we will address tomorrow.


 File this one under:  DISABILITY LAW

Tomorrow: If I rally my colleagues to my side, is that “free speech”?