Keywords: ADA, reasonable accommodation, delay
Dee Russell was a city truck driver and was involved in an accident while on the job. Later, when the city added new type of truck to their fleet, anytime Russell drove one of the new trucks, he experienced flashbacks to his accident. He was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and requested an accommodation not to be assigned to that specific model truck. The accommodation was accepted by the city 28 days after it was requested. Russell brought suit against the city claiming they violated the ADA because they unreasonably delayed accepting his accommodation. The court said that a 28 day delay in accepting a requested accommodation was not unreasonable, nor a violation of the ADA.
Dee Russell began working for the City of Tampa in 2002 as a collection driver for solid waste. The type of truck he drove at this time was called a “LODAL.” In 2012, Russell was involved in a serious accident with a motorcyclist. He was emotionally disturbed after the incident. Eventually, the city introduced a new truck to the fleet called the “Mack.” The new Mack truck handled differently and reminded Russell of the accident and caused emotional flashbacks.
Russell requested to be assigned only to the “LODAL” trucks. At this point the city referred him to an Employee Assistance Program where he was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress symptoms. He formally requested the accommodation from the city on June 24, 2013. It was not until July 10, 2013 that Russell was formally diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The City granted his accommodation on August 7, 2013. Russell filed suit against the City claiming the “unreasonable delay” in the approval of his accommodation violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The City filed a motion for summary judgement.
In this case, the court was ruling on a motion for summary judgement brought by the City. Summary judgement is appropriate when the moving party (Russell in this case) shows that there is no issue of material fact in the case. In order to bring a successful claim under the ADA, the plaintiff (Russell) is required to first show he or she is 1) disabled; 2) a qualified individual with a disability; and 3) was discriminated against because of his or her disability. Russell claims that the City discriminated against him by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation in a timely manner.
The first issue the court addressed was whether or not Russell was a person with a disability under the ADA. While in the past some courts ruled that PTSD was not a disability under the ADA, the court found that Congress passed regulations that explicitly favor a broad interpretation of “substantially limited” under the ADA to permit an expansive coverage of individuals with disabilities. In fact the court pointed out that Congress provided a non-exhaustive list of impairments that substantially limit major life activities for purposes of the ADA, and that PTSD was one of those impairments. See 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(ii). Therefore the court held that jury could reasonably find Russell disabled under the ADA.
The court then ruled on the issue of whether discrimination had occurred, and more specifically, whether or not 28 days was an unreasonable delay for an accommodation under the ADA. While an unreasonable delay could be considered a failure to accommodate, a short delay would allow the court to conclude that an accommodation was still reasonable. The court also noted that it cannot rule that the city must accommodate an individual if that person does not have official documentation of an impairment. Ultimately the court ruled that a 28 day delay in granting an accommodation is not unreasonable. Employers must be given an opportunity to process requests for accommodations and begin to incorporate remedial measures. The found in favor of the City because the delay was not unreasonable.
An Employer taking 28 days to respond to a request for an accommodation by an employee is not an unreasonable delay, nor a violation of the ADA.
It is often not the case where an individual requests an accommodation from an employer and can instantly have that accommodation granted. However that does not mean an employer can take all the time it needs to make a decision regarding a requested accommodation. This case does not draw a definitive line on how long of a delay would be unreasonable, but it does give some guidance. In the middle district of Florida, 28 days or less is not an unreasonable amount of time for an employer to accept and implement a requested accommodation.