A recent decision by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals focused on the burden of an employee who seeks reasonable accommodation from his employer under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The plaintiff in McKane v. UBS Financial Services, Inc., had engaged in verbal abuse of his co-workers, including an instance which occurred inside his office after he summoned a fellow employee there. He was terminated as a result of his conduct. He then sued his employer based on his employer’s failure to accommodate him by relocating his office to a remote location.
The Court noted that to state a case of a failure to accommodate, the plaintiff had to show that (1) he was disabled; (2) that he was a qualified disabled individual; and that (3) he was discriminated against because his employer did not provide him with a reasonable accommodation.
In analyzing the plaintiff’s claim, the Court concluded that he had failed to show he was a “qualified individual” by demonstrating that he could perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. His request for an office relocation was not reasonable, because he did not demonstrate that the relocation would allow him to get along with his co-workers, which had been proven to be an essential function of his job.
The plaintiff then claimed that his employer had violated the ADA by failing to engage in the “interactive process” of discussing alternative accommodations with him. However, the Court pointed out that it made no logical sense to conclude that an employer could be guilty of a violation of the ADA for failing to discuss accommodations where there was no reasonable accommodation available.
The case illustrates the basic method for analyzing disability-related accommodation cases. Recent amendments to the ADA resulted in lightening the burden of demonstrating the existence of a disability. Notwithstanding the amendment, plaintiffs must go one step further and show that they are a qualified person. They must then show that they were discriminated against because their employer failed to provide them with a reasonable accommodation. In the McKane case, the plaintiff failed on the latter two required elements of proof, and, accordingly, the Court upheld the dismissal of his lawsuit.