Here’s good news for employers that want to accommodate employees who say they’re disabled, even if it’s not clear they actually are. If you make the accommodations, the employee can’t sue you for regarding her as disabled if it turns out she isn’t really disabled.
That means you can safely agree to an accommodation without fearing a lawsuit later.
Recent case: In 1987, Sally Nyrop began working as a public school music teacher in Anoka. In 1995, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
As a result of the condition, Nyrop had trouble with heat sensitivity, swallowing and fatigue. She also had trouble speaking loudly. Her doctors recommended that the school system allow her to use a headset while teaching, and provide an air conditioner for her classroom so she wouldn’t become too hot. The school system agreed to the accommodations and all went well for a decade.
Meanwhile, Nyrop was earning an education-specialist degree. She began applying for administrative jobs within the district, jobs that would have amounted to promotions. She didn’t get any of those jobs.
Nyrop then claimed she could no longer teach music because her voice was impaired. She sued after her request for accommodations in the form of an administrative job was denied.
The school system argued that Nyrop wasn’t disabled and the court agreed. It also agreed that the district hadn’t regarded Nyrop as disabled when it allowed the earlier accommodations.
At most, the court said, the accommodations showed the district may have believed she couldn’t teach music without the accommodations. However, believing she couldn’t perform a specific job is not the same as believing she wasn’t able to work. (Nyrop v. Independent School District No. 11, No. 09-2083, 8th Cir., 2010)