The scenario: For more than 16 years, a man who was deaf and blind worked in a job that required him to repeatedly handle the same task. He was provided with a full-time job coach, but the employer didn’t have to pay for the coach because the funds were furnished through a government program.
Things were going well until a new manager took over the operation. The new boss thought the disabled worker was underperforming and that the job coach was actually doing the staffer’s work.
The deaf and blind worker was suspended without pay. The manager said the crew member needed to provide an updated accommodation questionnaire, but the boss didn’t follow up with the staffer to make sure the requested form was completed.
For more than a year, the disabled man was out of work waiting to hear back from the manager. Eventually, the staffer contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Legal challenge: The EEOC sued for disability discrimination.
The ruling: The company lost. A jury awarded $5.2 million in compensatory and punitive damages to the deaf blind man. And the jury award was upheld by an appeals court, which said the jury was justified in ruling that the employer failed to engage in the interactive process and accommodate the crew member’s condition.
The skinny: When it comes to the accommodation of a disabled staffer, remember the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If there are no significant problems or undue hardships related to an existing arrangement, don’t pull the accommodation – and take a chance that a jury could award millions of dollars to a disabled person.
Cite: EEOC v. Wal-Mart Stores, U.S. Court of Appeals 7, No. 20-3473, 6/30/22.
(From the Sept. 9, 2022, issue of HR Managers Legal Alert for Supervisors. To start your no-obligation trial subscription to the publication right now, please click here.)