Does an employer’s duty to reasonably accommodate an employee’s disability include the duty to alleviate commuting challenges caused by the disability? Two courts of appeals recently held that it does unless to do so would be an undue hardship; both decisions reversed summary judgment for the employer on the ADA claims.
In both cases, the plaintiff had a vision impairment which did not interfere with her ability to perform her job. In Livingston v. Fred Meyer Stores, Inc., the plaintiff, a wine steward, could not walk or drive after dark due to her vision impairment. In 2005, the company granted her request for a modified work schedule during the fall and winter months to minimize her driving at night. When the company denied her same request for 2006, the plaintiff refused to work her scheduled shift and was terminated.
The Ninth Circuit held that the company had a duty to accommodate Livingston’s inability to finish her scheduled shift, even though her disability did not affect her ability to function as a wine steward. The court remanded the case to resolve the issue of whether Livingston’s vision impairment was a disability.
In Colwell v. Rite Aid Corp, the plaintiff told her supervisor that her partial blindness made it dangerous and difficult for her to drive at night. The company declined to schedule her on day shifts only, explaining that it “wouldn’t be fair” to other workers. After various efforts to change to day shifts, plaintiff resigned.
The Third Circuit held that employers may need to make reasonable shift changes to accommodate a disabled employee’s disability-related difficulties in getting to work. The court remanded the case to resolve the issue of whether accommodating Colwell’s shift needs would be an undue hardship.
These two decisions extend the length of an employer’s “duty to accommodate” day. That day may begin as early as the time an employee leaves home and may not end until the employee returns home. Is that the temporal extent of the duty? Or does it extend even further to disability-related issues at home related to preparing for work, or an employee’s getting to transportation from home? For those answers, we will need to await further decisions, but at least according to these two decisions, an employer may find itself more involved in an employee’s commuting issues than it has been previously.