The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a request for a reserved, free on-site parking space could have been a request for a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) even though parking did not relate to the performance of the employee's essential job functions.
Executive Summary: The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a request for a reserved, free on-site parking space could have been a request for a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) even though parking did not relate to the performance of the employee's essential job functions. See Feist v. State of Louisiana, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 19133 (5th Cir. Sept. 16, 2013).
In Feist, the plaintiff, a former assistant attorney general, requested a free on-site parking space because of a medical condition related to her knee. Her employer denied the request, and Feist sued, alleging a violation of the ADA. The federal trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer, holding that Feist failed to explain how the denial of the parking space limited her ability to perform the essential functions of her position. Feist appealed, and the Fifth Circuit vacated the lower court's decision, finding it applied an incorrect legal standard in determining that Feist's proposed accommodation was unreasonable.
The Fifth Circuit held that nothing in the text of the ADA's reasonable accommodation provision indicates that a requested accommodation must facilitate the essential functions of the employee's position. Under the ADA, a reasonable accommodation may include:
(A) making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities; and
(B) job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, acquisition or modification of equipment or devices, appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations, training materials or policies, the provision of qualified readers or interpreters, and other similar accommodations for individuals with disabilities.
42 U.S.C. § 12111(9). The court also noted that EEOC regulations interpreting the ADA explicitly state that providing reserved parking spaces may constitute a reasonable accommodation under some circumstances. Based on this, the court held that Feist's requested accommodation presumably made her workplace readily accessible and usable by her and, therefore, might have been a reasonable accommodation.
The court also looked at the ADA's implementing regulations and held that a modification that enables an employee to perform the essential functions of a position was only one of three categories of reasonable accommodations. The regulations define reasonable accommodation as:
(i) Modifications or adjustments to a job application process that enable a qualified applicant with a disability to be considered for the position such qualified applicant desires; or
(ii) Modifications or adjustments to the work environment . . . that enable an individual with a disability who is qualified to perform the essential functions of that position; or
(iii) Modifications or adjustments that enable a covered entity's employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by its other similarly situated employees without disabilities.
29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(1).
The Fifth Circuit, therefore, found that the lower court erred in requiring a link between the requested accommodation and the essential functions of the employee's position and remanded the case. However, the Fifth Circuit specifically expressed no opinion as to whether the requested accommodation was reasonable in this particular factual situation.
Employers' Bottom Line:
Employers should continue to engage in the interactive process with disabled workers who require or request accommodation, keeping in mind that requests that do not seem to relate to the employee's specific essential job functions may still need to be explored. Employers should review their current policies and procedures to ensure that they do not limit accommodations to only those that assist an employee in performing his or her essential job functions. If necessary, employers should consider providing additional training to human resources personnel and managers to ensure they are prepared to engage in an interactive process when needed.
If you have any questions regarding this Alert or other labor or employment related issues, please contact the author, Michelle Tatum, email@example.com, who is an attorney in our Jacksonville office, or the FordHarrison attorney with whom you usually work.