The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a good decision on reasonable accommodation recently. EEOC v. Chevron Phillips Chemical Co., LLP. One of the few decisions to plumb the depths of acommodation and how the interactive process should work. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer. That is, the court found that the plaintiff had no case. A summary judgment is a term of art meaning quick judgment, one without the need for a trial. The lower court found that the initial request for accommodation, a simple release note from the doctor was *not* a request for accommodation. Because, the release note did not offer a possible accommodation.
But, the Fifth Circuit reversed this finding. The law does not require magic words, said the higher court, when asking for an accommodation. The employer was already aware of the employee’s disability. So, that knowledge plus this release note is enough to indicate the need for accommodation. The employer was, in effect, on notice regarding the need for acommodation.
An employee seeking accommodation is not required to come up with the solution on her own. So, yes, the release note from the doctor was enough in this case to serve as a request for accommodation. Once the employee presents a request for an accommodation, then the employer *must* engage in an interactive process to arrive at a solution. Here, the employer simply said, no, "this isn’t going to work." Such a statement shows the employer was refusing to engage in the interactive process, said the higher court. That refusal violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. Both the employee and employer must talk about the requested accommodation and arrive at a solution together.
So, for these reasons, the higher court found that summary judgment was not appropriate and the plaintiff should have a trial on these issues. As Mike Maslanka has said, the future issues in ADA cases will probably lie in the accommodation process, or lack of such a process.