A recent decision by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) awarding approximately $325,000 in damages to a long-service employee who had difficulty learning how to use new technology because of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD) is an important reminder to employers that they may have to provide accommodations to employees who report that performance difficulties are being caused by ADD/ADHD. In MCAD & Joyce v. CSX Transportation (MCAD 5/31/17), the employee had a 30 year career in the railroad industry, much of it at CSX or predecessor entities. Over time, his job responsibilities changed and required increasing use of technology, particularly recording work time and overtime of train crews on a computer system using a portable computer console (“the Onboard device”). The employee advised his managers that he was having difficulty using the Onboard device because he suffered from ADD/ADHD, and requested additional training which was never provided. The employee ultimately went out on disability and filed a charge for disability discrimination.

Job evolution at the Railroad & technology. The MCAD’s opinion recounts the twists and turns of the employee's employment over the years – including that he was terminated at one point and subsequently rehired pursuant to provisions of the union’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). At various points, as accommodations, he was assigned to roles that did not require use of the Onboard device.  However, ultimately, he was offered the position of conductor which required use of the technology.   The employee asked to be able to use a paper system to track hours, to be given more time to complete administrative tasks, and to be provided with adequate training.  He was not provided with any of these accommodations. Ultimately, the employee was disciplined for submitting a request for excessive overtime which he claimed had been necessary in order for him to be able to complete tasks on the Onboard device given his disability.

MCAD awards $325,000 in damages. The MCAD resolved almost all factual disputes in Mr. Joyce’s favor and awarded him $225,070.39 in economic damages (reflecting the difference between his disability benefits and the wages he would have received between 2010 and 2015 had he continued working). The MCAD also awarded the employee $100,000 in emotional distress damages.  Under Massachusetts law, employees are also entitled to be awarded attorney’s fees as well as prejudgment interest at the statutory rate (12% annually) from the date that the MCAD charge was filed (here, 2011).

Lessons for employers?  Employers need to mindful that if an employee states that performance problems are caused by ADD/ADHD or other cognitive conditions that this may trigger the duty to engage in the good faith interactive process and to provide reasonable accommodations. These performance problems can include working overtime because the employee needs additional time to complete these tasks. In my experience, such issues arise with some frequency, particularly as ADD/ADHD has become a more publicized and socially acceptable diagnosis. Accommodations may include additional training or other adjustments to the methods of performing job responsibilities.  Employers also need to mindful that if a long-standing employee is having difficulty adapting to technological change, this difficulty may implicate the ADA, and require employers to show a good faith willingness to assist the employee.  As our world becomes more technologically advanced, it is likely that requests such as those presented by Mr. Joyce will increase.