We are pleased to announce that Bennett & Belfort, P.C. Attorney Michael L. Mason recently defeated a motion for summary judgment on behalf of a disabled employee seeking the accommodation of a ramp up period when returning from a medical leave of absence.
In Cronin v. Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, a case alleging disability discrimination in the workplace, the Federal court found that there were sufficient material facts in dispute to permit a jury to consider the case. The plaintiff claims that his employer denied him a reasonable accommodation and terminated him due to his disability. After taking a medical leave, Cronin requested to return to work with accommodations including a ‘ramp up’ period to return to a full workload over a short period to acclimate to the job. The Defendant employer filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the Court to dismiss the case. Defendant argued that the requested ‘ramp up’ period was not reasonable and that it engaged in sufficient discussions with the Plaintiff to meet its obligations to engage in an interactive dialogue. The Judge found that the case could go to trial, as there was sufficient evidence of bias against the Plaintiff and the company could have provided the modest accommodations that were requested.
This decision is significant because it reinforces the fact that a limited ramp up period can indeed amount to a reasonable accommodation. In addition, this case highlights the strict requirements of disability accommodation laws. It is not enough for an employer to merely engage in a perfunctory dialogue with an employee who requests disability accommodations. Under state and federal law, employers must evaluate accommodation requests in good faith, and they are required to provide accommodations that are reasonable and not unduly burdensome to the employer.
In this case, there was adequate evidence that the employer merely went through the motions in discussing Plaintiff’s requested workplace adjustments. As such the Court will allow a jury to consider whether the company was justified in rejecting Plaintiff’s request for a limited ramp up period, which led to his separation of employment.
This case illustrates the need for employees and employers to make a concerted effort to evaluate and discuss, in good faith, disability accommodations before reaching a final decision. Employer’s that simply go through the motions in the interactive dialogue when employees make requests for workplace accommodations do so at their peril.