When we conduct training for employers on the topic of reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, they are often surprised to hear that hiring an interpreter or driver to enable a disabled employee to perform the essential functions of a position or to enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment nondisabled employees enjoy, may constitute a reasonable accommodation.
An aircraft manufacturer in Connecticut is learning this lesson the hard way. In Cadoret v. Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, Case No. 3:15cv1377 (D. Conn. 2018), Cadoret, a deaf employee, requested that the Company employ an interpreter to allow him to more effectively communicate with co-workers and participate in meetings. Over the years, the Company made other accommodations to Cadoret, such as providing him with written meeting notes and meeting with him individually to review the topics discussed at meetings. These accommodations did not satisfy Cadoret, however, so he filed a charge with the EEOC and ultimately a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Connecticut.
The court rejected the Companys attempt to dismiss the case on several grounds. First the Company argued that because Cadoret did not actually need an interpreter to perform the essential functions of his position, providing an interpreter was not necessary under the ADA. In denying the Companys argument, the court pointed out that reasonable accommodations under the ADA should be provided not just to enable employees to perform the essential functions of a position, but also where such accommodations would enable the employee to enjoy the same benefits and privileges of employment enjoyed by other employees, including access to meetings and trainings in the workplace.
The Company also argued that hiring a full-time interpreter was not a reasonable accommodation but rather would be considered unreasonable under the law. The court denied this argument as well, pointing to case law and the language of the ADA itself which specifically provides that providing an interpreter may be a reasonable accommodation. Notably, the Company did not argue that hiring a full-time interpreter would have placed an undue burden on the Company a defense that, while difficult to establish, could be successful given the proper facts.
Finally, the Company argued that it was entitled to summary judgment because it had begun providing interpreter services via video conferencing software to Cadoret – albeit after he already filed the lawsuit. The court did not agree, noting that providing the interpreter after the cause of action for failure to accommodate accrued may limit damages, but it did nothing to moot the case.
Employers should be reminded that, unless there is an undue hardship, the ADA requires that employers provide reasonable accommodation to disabled employees who are able to perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation. In addition, employers must provide reasonable accommodation to current employees to allow them to access the benefits and privileges of employment that other employees enjoy. Aside from potentially causing serious employee morale issues, failure to engage in the interactive process or to provide a reasonable accommodation can result in costly and time-consuming litigation.
The St. Louis employment attorneys at McMahon Berger have been representing employers across the country in labor and employment matters for over sixty years, and are available to discuss these issues and others. As always, the foregoing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice regarding any particular situation as every situation must be evaluated on its own facts. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.