Sometimes, you have to make workplace changes because of outside factors. If those changes are going to affect a disabled employee’s job, proceed with caution.
Make sure you can come up with a concrete, reasonable rationale for your decision—that shows it was unrelated to the employee’s disability.
Recent case: Carmine Scotch was on the faculty of the Art Institute of California–Orange County, where he taught a full-time schedule in Game Art & Design and other courses. He did not hold a master’s degree.
When the Art Institute was up for reaccreditation, it learned that the criteria called for all instructors teaching upper-division courses to hold advanced degrees.
At the same time, enrollments dropped. Scotch was offered the opportunity to pursue a master’s degree, but told his supervisor and HR he couldn’t do so because of a medical condition. He told the HR director in confidence that he was HIV-positive.
Shortly after, Scotch was assigned just four courses, dropping him below full-time status and ending his health benefits. He quit and sued, alleging disability discrimination under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.
The Art Institute argued it had reduced Scotch’s course load because declining enrollment had forced it to cut faculty. At the same time, it said it had to retain as many instructors with master’s degrees as possible to keep its accreditation.
Scotch could not rebut those solid business reasons, and the court dismissed his case. (Scotch v. Art Institute of California, No. G039830, California Court of Appeal, 4th Appellate District, 2009)
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