Twelve-month leave not facially reasonable accomodation under ADA

A twelve month leave of absence pursuant to ADA is not “facially reasonable” under the particular circumstances in the case of Delgado-Echevarría v. Astrazeneca Pharm., No. 15-2232 (1st Cir. May. 2, 2017).  Here, an employee that had requested twelve months of leave — on top of the five months already taken was terminated after she did not show up for work.  Twice she had been instructed to return and warned that failure to show up would be considered a resignation.  The employee sued her employer claiming that the company had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by discriminating against her because her disability; had failed to reasonably accommodate the disability and failed to engage in the required interactive process to discuss reasonable accommodations after she requested the additional 12-month leave. She also alleged retaliation for engaging in protected activity under the ADA.

During the ensuing litigation, the employer filed a motion for summary judgment and the case was subsequently dismissed. The employee appealed. The Court affirmed the decision and ruled that the plaintiff had failed to show that a reasonable accommodation existed. This conclusion in turn foreclosed her argument that the company had failed to engage in an interactive process.

Under ADA a plaintiff must show that she is disabled under the law and that she is qualified to perform the essential functions of her job with or without reasonable accommodation. She must also show that she was discharged or otherwise adversely affected in whole or in part because of her disability.

ADA requires employer to make reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified applicant or employee with a disability, unless the employer can show that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on its operation.  In a federal claim, the plaintiff has the burden of showing the existence of a reasonable accommodation. To satisfy this burden, the plaintiff must show that the proposed accommodation would be effective; enabling her to perform the essential functions of her job and that it is “facially reasonable”- meaning that it is feasible for the employer under the circumstances.

The court reasoned that  Plaintiff had not provided the employer with supporting documents to show that additional leave would have likely enabled her to return to work; and while under some circumstances a leave of absence or an extension can be reasonable accommodation, it was up to the plaintiff to show the “facially reasonableness”; an obligation that  Plaintiff   had not  met. The court noted that “the sheer length of the delay, when coupled with her prior five-month leave from December . . . jump[ed] off the page.” The lengthy period requested imposed “obvious burdens on an employer, not the least of which entails somehow covering the absent employee’s job responsibilities during the employee’s extended leave.”  The court concluded that Plaintiff’s  had not taken these burdens into account.

By Robert A. Fleming, business and employment attorney.