In a case decided earlier this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), a requested accommodation need not facilitate an employee’s ability to perform the essential functions of her job.
In Feist v. State of Louisiana, the plaintiff was an attorney with the Louisiana Department of Justice (“LDOJ”) who suffered from osteoarthritis of the knee. Feist claimed that her employer had failed to reasonably accommodate her disability because it refused to provide her with a free on-site parking space. The district court granted summary judgment in the employer’s favor because the plaintiff had failed to explain how the denial of on-site parking limited her ability to perform the essential functions of her job as a lawyer.
The Fifth Circuit reversed. Without deciding whether the requested accommodation was reasonable, the Fifth Circuit held that reasonable accommodations under the ADA need not relate to the performance of essential job functions. The court found no indication in the text of the ADA or its implementing regulations that an accommodation must facilitate the essential functions of one’s position. Instead, the court noted, the ADA regulations indicate that the term “reasonable accommodation” is broader, and can include, for example, “modifications or adjustments that enable a covered entity’s employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by its other similarly situated employees without disabilities.”
The Feist decision should serve as a caution to employers not to view the ADA’s reasonable accommodation requirement too narrowly, and to engage in the interactive process with an open mind whenever an employee requests a disability-related accommodation.