By Eric B. Meyer
When was the last time that you trained your managers and supervisors on how to address disability accommodation requests?
Or, how about the last time that you reminded your supervisors and managers that an employee with a disability needs to be treated respectfully?
If it’s been a while (or, maybe, I dunno, forever), have I got a case for you!
Yes, Boudreau v. Bethesda Foundation of Nebraska is your wake-up call.
Oh, you have an anxiety disorder?
Carly Boudreau was hired for a housekeeping position. Prior to her hire, Ms. Boudreau did not disclose that she had Tourette’s Syndrome and anxiety disorder.
On her first day of work, the Bethesda Foundation assigned Ms. Boudreau to work with a lead housekeeper for training. To say it didn’t start off well would be an understatement.
Allegedly, upon learning that Ms. Boudreau had a disability, the lead housekeeper told her that her disability was “all in her head” that she should “get off pills” and that the lead housekeeper would “fix” her.
It gets worse.
Ms. Boudreau also claimed that when she disclosed that her Tourette’s Syndrome, the lead housekeeper asked questions like “Does that mean you say ‘shit’ and ‘asshole’ all the time?” And, after learning of the anxiety disorder, the lead housekeeper jumped up and down in the elevator to make it shake.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that the lead housekeeper supposedly denied Ms. Boudreau’s requests for more direction regarding her work duties and expectations.
A policy not worth the paper it’s printed on
To its credit, Bethesda Foundation had a disability-accommodation policy. Any employee with a disability could request a reasonable accommodation from a supervisor or Executive Director of Resources. Unfortunately for Ms. Boudreau, when she tried to reach the housekeeping supervisor on her second day of work, he was out of the office. So, Ms. Boudreau bolted!
Article Continues Below
Subsequently, Ms. Boudreau’s mom contacted the housekeeping supervisor to request an accommodation on her daughter’s behalf. Namely, she wanted the lead housekeeper to be less of a ghoul.
Sounds reasonable to me. Even the housekeeping supervisor conceded that the lead housekeeper could be “gruff.” He told mom to tell her daughter to “sit tight until I get back on Friday.”
So, naturally, Carly Boudreau sat tight, did not return to work, and called the housekeeping supervisor on Friday to discuss her work situation and next steps. Except, when the housekeeping supervisor answered her call, she claims that he immediately informed her that she was terminated for her unauthorized departure from work.
You can guess how this one turned out
Yep, we’re going to trial.
The first element of a failure to accommodate claim is whether an employee put her employer on notice of her disability and the need for an accommodation. Did that happen here? Probably.
In her deposition, Plaintiff’s mother relates her telephone conversation with Al Austin. She described to Mr. Austin “an interactive problem” between Plaintiff and the employee conducting her training and explicitly referenced her daughter’s “disability.” Specifically, she characterized her daughter as “something like high-functioning autistic.”She also indicated that anyone training Plaintiff would need to work slowly and use appropriate descriptors.”
And what about the defendant’s argument that it had no duty to accommodate because the plaintiff quit? For god’s sake…
Plaintiff has alleged facts suggesting Defendant responded to the initiation of an interactive process by terminating its employee, a move clearly at odds with an employer’s duty to engage the interactive process in good faith.”
- Make sure that your anti-harassment policy and respect-in-the-workplace training address treatment of employees with disabilities.
- Have a disability-accommodation policy.
- Train your supervisors and managers on how to address disability-accommodation requests.
This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.