March 20, 2003
Disability Compliance Bulletin
SECTION: Vol. 25, No. 5
Flatly denying an employee's legitimate request for accommodation can easily get employers into trouble under the ADA. But what happens when a worker acknowledges that an accommodation was provided, but asserts that it took too long? A recent decision from a state court in Maryland follows the prevailing view on this question by finding that the timeliness of an accommodation is a factor to be considered in determining its reasonableness.
In the Maryland case, referenced in the table below, social worker Susan Cohen sought a decrease in field work responsibilities after she was diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis. Cohen initially requested the accommodation in October 1998, but it was not granted until February 2000. When Cohen sued, the employer moved to dismiss; the case was moot, it argued, because the accommodation had been granted. A lower court agreed, and Cohen appealed.
On appeal, the court rejected the notion that the provision of
accommodation, no matter how untimely, moots a claim of failure to
accommodate. This approach, it reasoned, would reward stalling
employers because "many disabled employees, seeing no progress, would
undoubtedly drop their accommodation requests." Thus, the court
determined, Cohen's claim that her employer failed to provide a timely
accommodation was a valid one that should go forward. The lower
court's judgment was vacated, and the case was remanded.
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