Sometimes, it takes a while to come up with disability accommodations that will work. Employers that document the ADA’s interactive process and offer multiple options seldom lose lawsuits alleging failure to accommodate.
Recent case: James was an electrical lineman, building and maintaining power lines. The job was rigorous and required, among other things, lifting and carrying electrical equipment, operating heavy machinery and digging to install power lines. Before James joined Northern State Power, a co-worker at another company electrified a line on which he had been working, sending 7,200 volts of electricity into his body through his right shoulder and out his left foot. James lost his two smallest left toes, and half the middle toe.
Because of the damage to his foot, he could not wear steel-toed boots and was allowed to work without them. Then the safety requirement changed and James began a long trial-and-error process to find boots that would work without causing pain.
Northern States Power worked with him over about a year, including extending paid leave for nine months and working with his doctors to see if a custom boot could be created. Those efforts failed and James took a disability retirement.
Then he sued, alleging failure to accommodate. The court looked at all the employer had done and concluded it had acted in good faith to find a solution. The case was dismissed. (Sharbono v. Northern States Power, No. 15-3351, DC MN, 2016)
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