The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) provides protection for “disabled individuals” who are currently employed or seeking employment. The ADA provides many remedies for individuals who may need a special accommodation in order to secure employment. If an individual is disabled under the ADA, Employers are required to reasonably accommodate the individual’s disability by engaging in the “interactive process.” Failure for an Employer to engage in the interactive process of providing an accommodation is potential for an employment discrimination lawsuit.
Based on the statutory definitions, in order for an individual to establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA, the individual must demonstrate that he/she: (1) is a disabled person within the meaning of the ADA; (2) is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations by the employer; and (3) has suffered an otherwise adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination. Stultz v. Reese Bros., Inc., 835 A.2d 754, 760 (Pa. Super. 2003).
First, the individual has to have a “disability” as defined within the ADA. The ADA defines a “disability” as an individual (1) with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, (2) with a record of such an impairment or (3) being regarded as having such an impairment. 42 U.S.C. §12102(1).
Second, the individual must be a “qualified individual” as defined within the ADA. The ADA defines a “qualified individual” as an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires. 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8). This means that an individual must be able to perform the job functions “with or without an accommodation.” This is a key factor.
Once the disabled individual establishes that he/she is protected under the ADA, the Employer must abide by the ADA. If the disabled individual makes a request for accommodation, it is unlawful for their Employer not to make reasonable accommodations unless the Employer can prove that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of its business. Stultz, 835 A.2d 754, 761 (citing Taylor v. Phoenixville School Dist., 184 F.3d 296, 311 (3rd Cir. 1999)).
To determine the appropriate reasonable accommodation for an individual’s disability in accordance with the ADA, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has articulated, “it may be necessary for the [employer] to initiate an informal, interactive process with the qualified individual with a disability in need of the accommodation.” Id.
The intended purpose of the interactive process under the ADA is to, “identify the precise limitations resulting from the Plaintiff’s disability and potential reasonable accommodations that could overcome those limitations.” Stultz, 835 A.2d 754, 761.
As such, “both parties have a duty to assist in the search for appropriate reasonable accommodation and to act in good faith.” Id. (citing Taylor, 184 F.3d 296, 311).
To trigger an Employer’s duty to participate in the interactive process, the disabled individual must have put the Employer on notice that he/she has a disability and, based on such notice, the Employer must be able to reasonably deduce a request for accommodation has been made. Stultz, 835 A.2d 751, 761. It is important to note that it is not essential for the disabled individual to know and relay the specific names or details of his/her condition to the Employer as long as the disabled individual makes the Employer aware of the disability and his/her desire for reasonable accommodation. Id.
It is important to remember that even under circumstances demonstrating that the Employer did not make a good faith effort to assist the disabled individual in finding reasonable accommodations, in order to prove that the Employer failed to participate in the interactive process, the disabled individual must still demonstrate he/she reasonably could have been accommodated and performed the job. Id. at 763.
My firm will be filing a federal lawsuit against an Employer for failing to engage in the interactive process under the ADA. The facts in the lawsuit involve an Employer who became aware of the Plaintiff’s disability and never engaged in the interactive process. The Employer never offered any sort of reasonable accommodation to the Plaintiff. My firm will be seeking back and front pay for the Plaintiff.
Michael Kraemer is a partner with Kraemer, Manes & Associates, a law firm headquartered in Pittsburgh, serving all of Pennsylvania, with attorneys focusing on business law, employment law, litigation, and civil issues. For more information please visit www.lawkm.com.