ADA: Testing and Transfer Accommodations

Friday, November 15, 2013

In Montemerlo v. Goffstown School District No. 2013 DNH 134 (DNH decided October 4, 2013) the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire clarified certain burdens imposed on the employee and employer when addressing multiple accommodations under the ADA.  The Court’s opinion is a reminder of the importance of engaging in the interactive process and highlights the importance of written job descriptions.
A school teacher who requested an accommodation to test her blood during the work day filed suit claiming she was denied a reasonable accommodation.  The Court rejected that claim finding that the District had agreed to provide her with coverage when she needed to leave the class room to test.  The Court found it unreasonable that the teacher never requested coverage but filed suit because she wanted to test her blood in her classroom.

The teacher also requested a transfer to an open position that she believed was more consistent with her disabilities.  The District did not respond to the transfer request.  The Court declined to grant summary judgment for the District.  The Court began the analysis by noting that “a disabled employee does not have a right to a transfer to a new position simply because she is disabled [, but the] request to transfer must in fact address the disabilities that prompt the request.”  The District asserted the request for a transfer to a new position was not a request for accommodation because it had provided a reasonable accommodation (the coverage for blood testing), but the Court held “the duty to provide a reasonable accommodation is a continuing one, however, and not exhausted by one effort.”  Because the District failed to respond to the transfer request and thus did not engage in the required interactive process, the District could not show it was entitled to judgment on that claim.  The District also argued that the letter requesting the transfer was not specific and did not provide the required notice.  The Court rejected this argument finding that the issue should be examined in light of the District’s long-standing awareness of the teacher’s disabilities.

This case serves as a reminder that an employee’s request for accommodation under the ADA is sufficient if it directly and specifically gives notice of the need for accommodation and explains how the request is linked to a disability.  The Court will inquire whether the employer knew or reasonably should have known that the reason for the employee’s request was her disability; the employer cannot make its decision by narrowly considering the employee’s request as the Court will examine the totality of the employer’s knowledge.

A written job description identifying the essential functions of the position are important to the analysis of what reasonable accommodations are available, and the absence of a job description may make it more difficult on the employer to determine how to respond to an accommodation request.  It is the employee’s burden to show that she is a qualified individual, which demands the employee establish she possesses the requisite skills, experience, education and other job related requirements for the position and that she is able to perform the essential functions for the job with or without reasonable accommodations.  A job description will make the essential functions clear and will guide the employer’s decision.