Employers Must Provide Accommodations When Disability is Obvious

July 8, 2008 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled an employer has a duty to reasonably accommodate an employee's disability if the disability is obvious.

The appellate panel said an employer was obligated to this duty even if the employee did not request an accommodation. Patrick S. Brady, who has cerebral palsy, signed an employment agreement that stated he was able to perform the functions of the position in the pharmacy of a Wal-Mart store “with or without reasonable accommodation.”

The court decided there was a perceived disability because Brady’s boss testified that once he began working she “knew there was something wrong” and that he “wasn’t fit for the job.” The appellate judges disagreed with Wal-Mart’s argument that Brady suffered no adverse employment action because his reassignment to collect carts and garbage from the parking lot was short-term. The panel made this decision based on the fact that Brady was not transferred back to the pharmacy and said his transfer to the food department, though better than the parking lot, could have been considered a demotion.

Brady quit because his position in the food department conflicted with his community college class schedule. He brought suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) alleging Wal-Mart discriminated against him and created a hostile work environment.

A district court jury awarded Brady $2.5 million and $5 million in punitive damages which were later reduced to $600,000 and $300,000, respectively (See Wal-Mart ADA Jury Award Slashed to Meet Legal Caps ).

The 2 nd Circuit upheld the award. Its opinion is here .