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No formal ADA accommodation request required

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Employers can’t rely on the lack of a formal reasonable accommodations request as the basis for not providing one if it is obvious the employee is disabled and has informally indicated he needs help.

There are no magic words required, no need to invoke the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act or state disability statutes.

Recent case: When Robert went to work for the Navy, he provided a “self-identification of handicap” form on which he indicated he had an artificial hip. He said that he had a combination of nonparalytic orthopedic impairments that made it hard to walk. He also told several co-workers about his medical conditions.  

Once on the job, he asked to use a motorized cart. He testified that he told his supervisors, “I need the cart too. My legs get tired after walking so far.”

On another occasion, he said, “I got a problem walking. I need the cart the same as you do to get around.”

Robert also asked another department if he could use their motorized cart as he had “a problem with [his] hip getting around here, walking.” Robert used that motorized cart for two weeks until his supervisor allegedly “took the keys.”

After the Navy terminated Robert, he sued, alleging failure to accommodate and retaliation for requesting a reasonable accommodation.

The Navy argued it had fired Robert for misconduct and that he had never requested an accommodation for a disability.

The court disagreed. It said Robert had identified his claimed disability—difficulty walking due to an artificial hip—and had requested reasonable accommodations when he asked to use the cart. His disability claims can go to trial. (Scott v. Mabus, No. 13-55277, 9th Cir., 2015)

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