Despite the lack of a clear causal connection between an employer’s failure to grant an employee’s request for additional training and its decision to terminate her employment, an Arkansas federal district court recently denied the employer’s summary judgment motion on the plaintiff’s failure to accommodate claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In denying summary judgment, the Court held that, “a failure to accommodate is, in and of itself, a form of discrimination under the ADA.” Orr v. City of Rogers (W.D. Ark. Feb. 3, 2017).
In Orr, Plaintiff requested additional training after initially undergoing certain medical procedures. According to the plaintiff, the employer offered her only “generic trainings,” as opposed to training on software and protocol changes that occurred while she was out on leave. The employer subsequently terminated the plaintiff’s employment following seven work infractions during a two-month period. After finding the employer had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for terminating Plaintiff’s employment, the Court examined whether the failure to accommodate claim survives the dismissal motion. The District Court recognized that courts disagree on whether a plaintiff must show an adverse employment action to have an actionable failure to accommodate claim, and observed that the Eight Circuit has held a failure to accommodate can be an adverse employment action. The district court ultimately held that the plaintiff need not show her employer’s failure to accommodate her training request resulted in her termination. Thus, the plaintiff could “seek damages for the failure to accommodate itself,” even if only nominal damages. Because the employer did not explain why it failed to accommodate the plaintiff’s request and questions of material fact existed regarding whether the employer engaged in the interactive process, the plaintiff’s failure to accommodate claim survived summary judgment.
This decision serves as a reminder to employers of the importance of engaging in the interactive process with employees seeking an accommodation. Documenting the steps the company takes to engage in the process can go a long way to defending a failure to accommodate claim.