Nov. 27, 2005 Refusing to Communicate with Former Employee's Attorney May Be Viewed as a Failure to Accommodate
Last Tuesday, a California Court of Appeal ruled that an employer did not satisfy its obligation to engage in the interactive process with a disabled employee when it refused to communicate with the employee’s attorney.
Plaintiff Michael Claudio was employed by the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California at Davis, where he contracted a disease that required him to avoid contact with animals. Although the University tried to find him a non-animal related job, it was unsuccessful at doing so. Ultimately, because Claudio believed that the University had fired him (even though it hadn't), he requested that the University deal with his attorney, which the the University refused to do. Then, without speaking further with Claudio or his attorney, the University determined that no open positions at the University matched Claudio’s skills and restrictions, and accordingly terminated his employment. Claudio sued for disability discrimination.
The court ruled that ordinarily, a disabled employee may not require an employer to communicate directly with the employee’s attorney, because the interactive process contemplates that the employee and employer will communicate directly with one another to exchange information about job skills and job openings. However, given the unique circumstances of the case, the court did not view it as unreasonable for Claudio to request the University communicate with his attorney.
What this Means
Before terminating the reasonable accommodation process with an employee, or the employee’s representative, an employer should be confident that it can show one of the following:
- it offered a reasonable accommodation, but the employee refused it; or
- there was no vacant position within the employer’s organization for which the disabled employee was qualified and which the disabled employee was capable of performing with or without accommodation; or
- the employer did everything in its power to find a reasonable accommodation, but the informal interactive process broke down because the employee failed to engage in discussions in good faith.