Calif. Court: Perceived Disability Enough to Prompt Reasonable Accommodations

June 6, 2006 ( - The California 2nd Appellate District Court for Los Angles ruled Friday that employers must provide necessary and reasonable accommodations for workers they consider disabled, not only those workers that are "actually disabled."

The court reversed an opinion by a lower court that said a worker must have a statutorily defined disability in order for the employer to be required to provide accommodations.  

The appeals court also said that employers must discuss possible accommodations with applicants considered disabled, as instructed by California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, according to the opinion .

The discrimination suit against Lockheed Martin Corp. was brought in March 2003 by Charles Gelfo – a metal fitter who injured his back at work in September 2000. He filed a workers’ compensation claim and began to see a physician; he was laid off in October 2000. He was placed on a recall list, in which he was automatically eligible for rehire.

After several doctors’ evaluations, Gelfo was found in September 2002 to have lost “approximately 75% of his pre-injury capacity for lifting,” according to the background in the opinion. The physician instructed against any “heavy lifting, no repetitive bending, and no prolonged sitting or standing.”

In September 2001, Lockheed offered a class to train participants to be a plastic parts fabricator. The training class included physical duties such as bending and stooping, without any adverse consequences to his back. Gelfo’s getting hired as a plastic parts fabricator was contingent on a security clearance and a medical examination.

The company rescinded the offer when it learned of Gelfo’s past medical problems, even after Gelfo’s repeated assurances that he could do the job without any detriment to his back.

The company said it could accommodate Gelfo’s lifting restrictions of no more than 50 lbs, but could not accommodate his other restrictions.

The appeals court said that “an employer must engage in an informal interactive process aimed at effecting an reasonable accommodation, and provide a necessary and reasonable accommodation to an applicant or an employee whom it regards as physically disabled.”