Thursday, April 22, 2010

Duty to Accommodate Commuting Difficulties Under the ADA

In Colwell v. Rite-Aid Corp. (.pdf), the Third Circuit held that "under certain circumstances the ADA can obligate an employer to accommodate an employee’s disability-related difficulties in getting to work."

The Plaintiff worked part-time at Rite Aid and during the course of her employment went blind in one eye. She worked the evening shifts and had no problems, even after her vision impairment, with performing her work duties. She did have difficulty, however, with driving at night. She requested day shifts but Rite Aid refused, claiming it wouldn't be fair to other workers who had more seniority and/or worked full-time.

The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of Rite Aid:
"the accommodations that [Plaintiff] sought had nothing to do with the work environment or the manner and circumstances under which she performed her work, [and Defendant] had no duty to accommodate [Plaintiff] in her commute to work."
The Third Circuit disagreed:
"Instead, we hold as a matter of law that changing Colwell’s working schedule to day shifts in order to alleviate her disability-related difficulties in getting to work is a type of accommodation that the ADA contemplates."
The Court quoted Congress:
"modified work schedules can provide useful accommodations" and noted that "persons who may require modified work schedules are persons with mobility impairments who depend on a public transportation system that is not currently fully accessible." H.R. Rep. No. 101-485(II), at 62-63 (1990), reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. 330, 345.
The Third Circuit reversed the District Court's grant of summary judgment as to Plaintiff's ADA reasonable accommodation claim and remanded for further proceedings.

Posted by Philip Miles, an employment lawyer with McQuaide Blasko in State College, Pennsylvania.