A federal district court in Hawaii has ruled that the branch manager of a rental car company may have been discriminated against on the basis of his depression and adjustment disorder disabilities when he was terminated for an angry outburst directed at a subordinate after having been warned about similar misconduct on past occasions. Assaturian v. Hertz Corp. The final incident occurred about four months after the manager was told by his employer that he could no longer bring “Sugar Bear,” a Shih Tzu, to work with him unless he provided medical documentation establishing his need to do so. According to the manager, “Sugar Bear” was a licensed service animal that helped him control his emotions and reduce his stress. The manager had not complied with his employer’s request for documentation by the time of the incident that led to his termination, but claimed during discovery in the lawsuit that he had not had sufficient opportunity to do so. According to the managers’ co-workers, the dog was not leashed and regularly urinated on the floor.
Nevertheless, the court denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment, finding that there was a question of fact regarding whether allowing the manager to bring “Sugar Bear” to work with him was a reasonable accommodation and whether the employer had failed adequately to engage in the interactive process with the manager.
Individuals with emotional disabilities are increasingly using comfort animals to manage their symptoms. Employers should expect to see more requests from employees to bring their comfort animals to work, and should consider such requests on a case-by-case basis, as they must do with all requests for accommodation.