A diabetic employee who quit her job in response to her employer’s rejection of her suggested “reasonable accommodation” cannot support claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), according to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, because she failed to participate in the interactive process in good faith. EEOC v. Kohl’s Dep’t Stores, Inc., No. 14-1268 (December 19, 2014).

Factual Background

Pamela Manning, who suffers from Type I diabetes, was hired as a part-time sales associate by Kohl’s Departments Stores, Inc. in 2006. Two years later, Manning was promoted to a full-time sales associate, working 36 to 40 hours each week on predictable shifts, typically starting no earlier than 9:00 a.m., and ending no later than 7:00 p.m.

In 2010, Kohl’s restructured its staffing system, resulting in a reduction of hours for Manning’s department. After the restructuring, Manning was able to keep her full-time status because she could perform certain work for other departments. However, because of the varied assignments, Manning was scheduled to work inconsistent shifts and her work hours became less predictable, often obliging her to work a “swing shift”—a night shift followed by an early day shift.

Manning informed her supervisor that working erratic shifts was aggravating her diabetes. Her supervisor told Manning to obtain a doctor’s note to support her request for more predictable work hours. Manning’s doctor provided such a note, supporting Manning’s request to work the daytime hours to which Manning had been assigned prior to the restructuring.

Kohl’s met with Manning on March 31, 2010, informing her that it could not provide a consistently steady daytime schedule. Kohl’s also informed Manning that while it could not provide her preferred schedule, it was willing to discuss alternatives. In response, Manning stated that she had “no choice but to quit,” and she put her store keys on the table and walked out of the meeting, slamming the door.

Manning’s supervisor followed Manning out of the meeting, attempted to calm her down, and asked her to reconsider her resignation, which Manning refused to do; instead, she cleaned out her locker and departed the building. Kohl’s subsequently called Manning to attempt additional discussion regarding accommodation, but Manning refused to have any further contact with anyone at Kohl’s. Kohl’s then treated Manning’s departure as a voluntary quit, and ended her employment.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought suit on Manning’s behalf, claiming that Kohl’s failed to accommodate Manning’s disability. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of Kohl’s based on Manning’s failure to engage in the interactive process, and further held that a reasonable person in Manning’s position would not have felt compelled to resign when she did. That decision was upheld by the First Circuit Court of Appeals in response to the EEOC’s appeal.

Key Takeaways

The ADA requires an “interactive process” between a disabled employee and her employer in the search for a reasonable accommodation. That process requires “bilateral cooperation and communication,” and requires both parties to engage in that process “in good faith.” According to the First Circuit, when the employee fails to cooperate, the employer cannot be held liable under the ADA for failure to provide a reasonable accommodation.

Manning’s refusal to participate in the interactive process was the primary reason that the process broke down and, therefore, Manning could not avoid summary judgment on her ADA claim. The key to this decision was the fact that after Kohl’s declined to provide the schedule requested by Manning, the company made concrete and documented efforts to continue the dialogue in order to discuss other reasonable accommodations. Without those additional efforts at an ongoing interactive process, this case may have been decided very differently.