Supervisor’s take-home: Don’t rescind a job offer because of a disability without first figuring out whether the candidate could handle the work with a reasonable accommodation.
What happened: Because a stroke had severely damaged her legs, a female employee had limited mobility. However, she was able to manage her mobility limitations well enough to perform a part-time job.
What people did: The woman sought a promotion to a full-time position, which meant she had to undergo a physical exam to prove she could handle the requirements of the job. She failed the exam because of her limited mobility. When she was told that the offer of full-time employment was being withdrawn, she asked why. The hiring manager told her four times, “Because you’re a liability.”
Legal challenge: The woman sued for disability discrimination, claiming that she was denied the full-time job because of her disability.
The employer argued that she couldn’t handle the essential functions of the position, which included the need for mobility.
Result: The employer lost. The court refused to dismiss the lawsuit. The judge said the woman had successfully handled all her job tasks while working part time. Those duties wouldn’t have changed if she became full- time, so a jury should decide whether the offer of a full-time position was pulled because of her disability.
The court also noted that the employer failed to engage in the interactive process. Rather than work with the disabled staffer to identify potential accommodations for her condition, the hiring manager called her a liability.
The skinny: Employers that think it’s OK to refer to disabled folks as liabilities rarely wind up on the winning side in a court of law.
Cite: Price v. Victor Valley Union High School District, Court of Appeal of California, No. E076784, 11/9/22.
(From the Jan. 6, 2023, issue of HR Managers Legal Alert for Supervisors. To start your no-obligation trial subscription to the publication right now, please click here.)