Courts are always busting employers’ chops when it comes to ADA responsibilities. That’s what makes this so refreshing: A court just took an employee to task for not holding up her end of the ADA bargain.
The employee’s name is Pamela Manning. She was a full-time sales associate for Kohl’s Department Stores who worked 36 to 40 hours per week via predictable, daytime shifts. She also suffered from Type I diabetes.
Eventually, Kohl’s needed to restructure its staffing system. Manning was able to keep her full-time status, but to do so she needed to perform work in other departments. This resulted in her working a much more varied schedule. She often had to work a “swing shift,” which involved following up a night shift with an early day shift.
Manning claimed the erratic shifts aggravated her diabetes, and her doctor agreed. She then requested to work more predictable hours, and submitted a doctor’s note to Kohl’s that supported her request.
‘We can’t do that, but … ‘
Kohl’s managers then informed Manning that it couldn’t fulfill her request to work more consistent shifts. However, at that time the management team also informed her that it would be willing to consider and discuss other accommodations.
At that point, Manning became upset and said she had “no choice but to quit,” claiming that if she continued to work unpredictable hours she would go into ketoacidosis or a coma. She then put her store keys on the table and left the room.
A manager followed her and attempted to calm her down. The manager asked Manning to reconsider resigning and discuss other potential accommodations.
Manning responded by saying, “Well, you just told me corporate wouldn’t do anything for me.” She then cleaned out her locker and left the building.
A few days later, she contacted the EEOC, which sued Kohl’s on her behalf, claiming the company failed to accommodate Manning’s disability.
Failed to engage in interactive process
A district court threw the EEOC’s lawsuit out, and that decision was later upheld by an appellate court.
Both said Manning had failed to engage in the ADA’s required interactive process.
According to the appellate court:
The interactive process involves an informal dialogue between the employee and the employer in which the two parties discuss the issues affecting the employee and potential reasonable accommodations that might address those issues. … It requires bilateral cooperation and communication.”
Kohl’s tried to initiate that dialogue, but Manning didn’t, the court said. So she couldn’t claim Kohl’s failed to accommodate her disability.
Good news for employers
Not only is it good to see a court hold an employee’s feet to the fire when it comes to individuals’ ADA responsibilities, the case also serves as an important reminder that employees don’t have the power to dictate what accommodations they receive.
In addition, physicians can’t dictate the terms of accommodations either, although their input should always be welcome.
The interactive process the ADA requires must involve an interaction between all the parties involved — and not a one-way conversation in which one party tells the other what’s going to go down.
Cite: EEOC v. Kohl’s Department Stores Inc.