The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently discussed one of the three required elements of a failure to accommodate claim: that the disability and its consequential limitations were known by the employer. Patton v. Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., 874 F.3d 437 (2017).
Patton, a designer of electrical and instrumentation systems, suffered from childhood onset fluency disorder (stuttering). He claimed that his employer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to accommodate his need for a quieter working environment.
Patton’s employer did not contest that he suffered from a disability as that term is defined by the ADA–a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. The court noted that his disability was obvious due to his stuttering, and then turned to the question of whether Patton made known to his employer the limitations resulting from his disability and the reasonable accommodations he needed to perform his work.
The court noted that the initial burden rested on Patton to explain to his employer why his disability required an adjustment in his working conditions or duties. The court found that Patton did not meet his burden because he failed to inform his employer that his needed a quieter work environment to perform his work due to a sensitivity to noise related to his childhood onset fluency disorder.
This decision illustrates that in certain circumstances it is up to the employee to begin a dialog with the employer concerning the disability related limitations and how best to accommodate those limitations
Mike Loftin is an attorney at the Underwood Law Firm. www.uwlaw.com/attorneys/mike-loftin/