In a recent decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, the Court upheld a trial decision finding that an employer did not violate the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by terminating an employee who insisted on an unreasonable accommodation.
The case involved Edward Whelan, an employee of Teledyne Metalworking Products, who informed his employer that he had a degenerative eye disease. As an accommodation for the eye disease, Mr. Whelan requested and received a transfer to an outside sales job. Later, his vision worsened and he was no longer able to work in outside sales. Therefore, Mr. Whelan notified the company that he was only able to work as a marketing coordinator out of his home.
Several years later, Teledyne consolidated its operations in Alabama. Teledyne advised Mr. Whelan that he was required to transfer to Alabama and requested information about the accommodation Mr. Whelan would need to perform his essential job functions. Mr. Whelan proposed only one accommodation–that Teledyne permit him to work out of his house in Pittsburgh. Teledyne could not agree to have Mr. Whelan work out of his house in Pittsburgh and fired Mr. Whelan for not transferring to Alabama.
Mr. Whelan filed a lawsuit against Teledyne claiming it had violated the ADA by failing to provide him with a reasonable accommodation. The 3rd Circuit supported and affirmed the jury’s finding that Teledyne had accommodated Mr. Whelan and would continue to accommodate him if he transferred to Alabama. However, Mr. Whelan’s singular accommodation request to continue working from his home in Pittsburgh was unreasonable. The 3rd Circuit further admonished Mr. Whelan as he requested a single, unreasonable accommodation and failed to provide appropriate information needed to devise an appropriate accommodation.
When an employee requests an accommodation, the employer must engage in the interactive process to determine what type of reasonable accommodation can be made for that employee. However, an employer may not be required to provide the employee’s first choice of accommodation if that request is deemed to be unreasonable. The employer must engage in good faith discussions and attempt to understand and work out whatever type of limitation or accommodation could be made for the employee. However, the employee cannot hold the employer hostage with unreasonable requests.