Via The Digest of Equal Employment Opportunity Law | Volume 1, Fiscal Year 2019
“The federal government, including the Agency, is charged with being a “model employer” of individuals with disabilities. See 29 C.F.R. 1614.203(a). Inherent in this duty is an obligation to break down artificial barriers which preclude individuals with disabilities from participating on an equal footing in the work force. Accordingly, the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to make various types of “”reasonable accommodation” for federal employees who have disabilities. This requirement helps ensure that such federal employees will be able to perform the essential functions of their positions, and enjoy all the benefits and privileges of employment enjoyed by non-disabled employees. See Appendix to Part 1630 – Interpretive Guidance on Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“Appendix to Part 1630″), at Section 1630.2(o): Reasonable Accommodation.” (via)
Denial of Reasonable Accommodation & Disability Discrimination Found.
Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging, among other things, that the Agency denied him reasonable accommodation, and discriminated against him based on his disability when it rated him “unsuccessful” on his performance evaluation. On appeal, the Commission found that the Agency failed to show that providing any of Complainant’s many requested reasonable accommodations would cause an undue hardship. The Agency’s broad rejections did not reflect the specificity required of an individualized assessment, nor a consideration of the factors comprising an undue hardship. Further, the Commission noted its concern with the Agency’s lack of participation in the interactive process. The Agency not only rejected Complainant’s numerous suggestions, but it failed to suggest any alternatives and blamed Complainant for the alleged breakdown in the interactive process. The Commission further found that Complainant’s “unsuccessful” rating was also discriminatory. While the record contained evidence of Complainant’s ongoing performance problems throughout the year, including numerous emails from his supervisor, the Commission observed that some of the emails followed Complainant’s requests for accommodation. Moreover, the major life activities that were impacted by Complainant’s PTSD, for which he was seeking a reasonable accommodation, were the same skills identified by management as needing improvement (i.e. focus, concentration, and avoiding distractions). Among other things, the Agency was ordered to immediately take all steps necessary in accordance with Commission regulations to provide Complainant with reasonable accommodation; to rescind and expunge the unsuccessful rating; and to determine Complainant’s entitlement to compensatory damages. The Commission affirmed the Agency’s finding that Complainant failed to prove his claim of harassment. Wilmer M. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120160352 (Feb. 22, 2018).
Denial of Reasonable Accommodation & Reprisal Discrimination Found.
Complainant, who had a mixed connective tissue disease, alleged she was denied a reasonable accommodation, and subjected to reprisal when the Agency included certain elements in her work commitments. Complainant requested to telework an additional day each week due to her extended commute and per her doctor’s recommendation. However, Complainant was placed on a new team with “face-to-face” and “physically available” commitments. On appeal, the Commission found that Complainant could perform essential function of her job with a reasonable accommodation of telecommuting. Complainant identified a reasonable accommodation of telecommuting two days a week and fully complied with Agency procedures. Rather than provide the requested accommodation, however, the Agency denied Complainant’s request, and only months later granted situational telework. The Commission found that this was ineffective, because Complainant’s condition merited consistent telework to address her symptoms and to prevent exacerbation of her condition. While Agency managers indicated that there was not sufficient work for Complainant to do while teleworking, no basis was shown for this assertion. The Commission cited significant issues with the manner in which the Agency engaged in the interactive process, including continuing to require further medical documentation despite the fact that the Agency already had the information in its possession. The Commission concluded that the Agency did not make a good faith effort to provide Complainant with reasonable accommodation. The Commission also found that Complainant was subjected to reprisal when her work commitments were revised to include terms like “face to face” and “physically available.” The Commission noted the close temporal proximity between Complainant’s request for reasonable accommodation and the change in her work commitments, and stated that Complainant was the only employee impacted by the reassignment whose new commitments evinced a clear disapproval of telework. The Agency was ordered, among other things, to provide Complainant with the option of teleworking two days per week if she still occupied her position or a similar position, investigate Complainant’s claim for damages, and provide appropriate training for the responsible management officials. Alejandrina L. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120152145 (Nov. 16, 2017).