Add this to your list of potential disability accommodations: Transferring en employee to another city in order to be near specialized medical care.
That’s the upshot of a recent case out of Texas. Here are the details:
Clarice Sanchez was a long-time secretarial employee of the United States Forest Service. While working in the Lufkin, TX USFS office, she fell down a flight of stairs, suffering irreversible brain damage — a permanent injury to the nerves that transmit images from the eyes to the brain.
As a result of the injury, Sanchez was left with only 50% of her total visual ability, and was unable to see objects to the left line of center when her eyes are focused ahead.
After seven weeks of recovery, Sanchez returned to work.
Shortly thereafter, she requested a hardship transfer to the Albuquerque, NM office because no doctors in Lufkin were qualified to provide the type of specialized therapy her condition required.
Sanchez also explained that she needed the support of her family and friends in Albuquerque and noted the lack of public transportation in Lufkin.
After the Forest Service declined to accommodate her request, she sued her employer under the Rehabilitation Act. A district court dismissed her suit, saying she didn’t qualify as disabled.
[The Rehabilitation Act is basically the federal government version of the Americans with Disability Act. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by federal agencies, in programs receiving federal financial assistance, in federal employment, and in the employment practices of federal contractors.]
An appeals court reversed, saying, “There is no dispute that Sanchez has a recognized impairment or that the life activity she has identified — seeing — falls within the Act.”
The Forest Service argued that the Rehabilitation Act doesn’t call for transfer accommodations for employees who require medical treatment despite being able to perform the essential functions of their jobs.
Here, again, the court disagreed: “We conclude that a transfer accommodation for medical care or treatment is not per se unreasonable, even if an employee is able to perform the essential functions of her job without it.”
The case is Sanchez v. Vilsack.