Last week, a Tennessee federal judge refused to dismiss a failure to accommodate and disability discrimination lawsuit brought under the ADA on behalf of former Dollar General employee, Karen Piper. Ms. Piper worked as a payroll specialist for Dollar General from 2007 through 2009. Unfortunately, in 2008, Ms. Piper lost sight in one of her eyes, negatively impacting her work performance. Because most of her work was done using a computer, Ms. Piper asked her supervisors to provide her with a larger computer monitor so that she could better read numbers and text. Although Ms. Piper was clearly struggling with her medical issues at work, and despite the modest nature of her request, her repeated requests for accommodation were ignored. After years of hardship, Ms. Piper was fired in 2010 for performance related issues which may have been remediated had her disability been accommodated.
A disabled person under the ADA is someone who, with or without an accommodation, can perform the fundamental duties required by a job. Employers who are obligated to follow the ADA or equivalent local or state statutes are legally obligated to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with qualifying and known disabilities requiring such accommodations. Reasonable accommodations are provided to help the disabled employee effectively perform the essential functions of their job and may include special equipment, unpaid time off, or schedule flexibility. The larger computer monitor requested by Ms. Piper for her visual impairment, under most circumstances, would qualify as a reasonable accommodation which a company is obligated to provide.
What many employees do not realize that it is just as illegal for an employer to deny a disabled employee a reasonable accommodation as it is for an employer to terminate an employee due to a physical disability. Unless the requested accommodation will provide undue hardship regarding cost or difficulty for the employer, the employer has the responsibility to provide an accommodation after becoming aware of the request. If the disabled employee is unable to suggest a specific accommodation, the employer should work with the employee to find a one.
In Ms. Piper’s case, the judge ruled that even if a larger monitor did not help Ms. Piper perform her duties, Dollar General should have worked with her to find another type of accommodation that could better assist her.
If you are a disabled employee and have been denied a reasonable accommodation at work, immediately contact an experienced attorney with knowledge of your rights and protections under the ADA.