Overlapping issues often make it even harder for HR pros to deal with difficult situations. For example, addressing the needs of two disabled employees can turn into a discrimination lawsuit if they belong to different protected classes and you come up with different accommodations.
And that’s certainly possible, given the many differences between employees, including sex, race, national origin, age and so forth.
That’s why it’s critical to treat every employee the same. You simply never know where or how a discrimination lawsuit will erupt.
Recent case: James Lemay, who is black, worked for Bridgestone for nearly 20 years. He was injured at work, losing several fingers in an accident. He had constant pain and weakness in his hand.
Lemay requested several accommodations, including transfer to a different position where the pain and weakness wouldn’t be aggravated. He claimed that Bridgestone denied every one of his requests, yet regularly accommodated white employees with other disabilities. He said he often had to change his own break times to make way for white employees’ accommodations.
Lemay sued, alleging race discrimination. His claim was essentially that Bridgestone treated white disabled employees better than it treated him.
A court granted him a jury trial. (Lemay v. Bridgestone, No. 5:09-CV-532, ED NC, 2010)
Final note: In a case like this one, careful documentation can help an employer win in court. For example, the ADA requires employers to evaluate all disabilities on their own merits. Perhaps Bridgestone’s white disabled employees have needs so different than Lemay’s that they warrant very different accommodations. Carefully document all reasons behind each accommodation decision. Do so at the time you make the decision, in case they are later challenged.
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