Tuesday, 05 November 2013 09:03
By Doug Hanson
A former government attorney in Louisiana sued the state for discrimination and retaliation in violation of the ADA, predicated on the state declining to provide free on-site reserved parking to accommodate her disability. The attorney alleged she had a disability under the ADA due to osteoarthritis of the knee. The trial court found in favor of the state, holding the attorney failed to explain how the denial of reserved on-site parking limited her ability to perform the “essential functions” of her job. On appeal to the Fifth Circuit, the issue was whether the ADA requires a link between a requested accommodation and an essential job function.
The Fifth Circuit began by recognizing the ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against a qualified individual on the basis of disability. Discrimination includes failure to make reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability. The elements of an ADA failure-to-accommodate claim are: (1) the employee was a qualified individual with a disability; (2) the disability and its consequential limitations were known by the covered employer; and (3) the employer failed to make reasonable accommodations for such known limitations.
The trial court had held the attorney could not show the parking spot proposal was reasonable because she did “not allege or demonstrate that the parking situation limited her ability to perform essential functions of her job.” The Fifth Circuit disagreed with the trial court’s reasoning, explaining reasonable accommodations are not restricted to modifications enabling performance of essential job functions, which is just one of three categories of reasonable accommodations. The EEOC has also explicitly opined “providing reserved parking spaces” may constitute a reasonable accommodation under some circumstances.
The ADA defines “a reasonable accommodation” as including “making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.” The requested reserved on-site parking would have presumably made the attorney’s workplace “readily accessible and usable” by her. Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit found the requested on-site parking may have potentially been a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.