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Disabled employee wants open position? That may be a reasonable accommodation

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Employers have an obligation to reasonably accommodate disabled employees. They can’t just ignore an accommodation request—especially if it involves the relatively simple step of placing the employee in an open job.

Recent case: Paula Crabill, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools guidance counselor, was diagnosed with a disorder of the brain stem that impedes the flow of spinal fluid and causes weakness, dizziness, tingling, the sensation of electric shock and burning.

Crabill asked for a reduced case­load since she had trouble typing reference letters for the students assigned to her. The school system refused her request several times. School officials went as far as to exchange emails discussing the need to reject her persistent requests for a reduced case­load. The emails referred to her “so-called medical problems.”

Then Crabill asked for a transfer to a middle school as a reasonable accommodation. But the school superintendent refused. Instead, when she began the next year, she had an even higher caseload. She retired instead.

Crabill then sued, alleging disability bias had forced her to retire.

The court said her case could go to trial based on the possibility that declining to transfer Crabill to an open position constituted failure to accommodate. (Crabill v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, No. 10-1539, 4th Cir., 2011)

Note: The court did, however, conclude that her original accommodations request was not reasonable. A reduced caseload would have meant increased caseloads for other counselors—something the court said the ADA does not require.

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