Unclear offer of position leaves questions about interactive process
Case name: Vincent v. BNSF Railway Co., No. 10-CV-0347-TOR (E.D. Wash. 11/27/12).
The U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Washington denied an employer's motion for summary judgment on a mechanical laborer's claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act alleging that the employer failed to accommodate her disability.
What it means: According to this court, employers must engage in a good-faith interactive process with employees to identify and implement appropriate reasonable accommodations.
A mechanical laborer suffered an injury to her right elbow while working. She was placed on light duty for several months. She returned to full duty for a brief period, but it aggravated her injury and her physician took her off work completely. She was never fully medically released to work at her original position. The employer sent the laborer a letter indicating the potential for reassignment to an inspection officer position. The laborer did not accept the offer to initiate the process for the inspector officer position. The laborer sued the employer under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Washington denied the employer's motion for summary judgment on the laborer's ADA claim.
The court found that there were genuine issues of fact as to whether both sides participated in good faith in the interactive process and whether the offer of the inspection officer position to the laborer was really a meaningful, and therefore reasonable, accommodation. The offer letter indicated that the laborer's acceptance would initiate the application process. While the employer testified that she would have been given the job if she passed the background check and participated in the interview, there was no evidence in the record that this information was effectively communicated to the laborer.
There was "great dispute" as to who failed to follow up in the interactive process to determine whether the laborer would accept the position, as well as the extent to which the employer addressed the concerns that she had about the position. The court could not find that the laborer lost her status as a "qualified individual" under the ADA by allegedly rejecting the inspection officer position.
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March 18, 2013
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