The United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama in McClain v. Tenax Corp. recently denied in part an employer’s motion for summary judgment on a disabled employee’s failure to accommodate claim under the ADA. The Court held the ADA-required interactive process never took place where the employer’s issued an ultimatum to the disabled employee in response to his request for a reasonable accommodation. The facts show the importance of a well-documented interactive accommodation program. In this case, an employee suffering from hand and foot deformities worked full-time as a janitor until the employer faced a production slowdown. The slowdown led to the employee’s position becoming part-time. In an effort to restore him to full-time, the employer offered a part-time pallet-wrapping position to supplement his part-time janitorial position. After just two days of performing the part-time pallet-wrapper position, the employee advised his manager he could not perform the job because of his physical impairments. The employee requested an accommodation whereby he be permitted to return to work as a full-time janitor. Despite his complaints to multiple managers, they indicated he could either do both positions or quit. Given no other options, the employee resigned. He was not fired, but an ultimatum was presented.
The Court determined that under the ADA the employer had no obligation to create a new position (i.e., a full-time, rather than a part-time, janitorial position) for the employee as a reasonable accommodation. However, the Court ruled that the employer’s actions could be viewed by a jury as unlawful. By giving the employee the all-or-nothing ultimatum it failed to engage in the mandatory interactive process, which requires interactive discourse between the employer and employee.