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Case Bulletin – Federal District Court Determines that Allegations Did Not Properly Allege Claim Under the Americans with Disabilities Act

On April 7, 2016, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in Hofacker v. Wells Fargo Bank National Association __ F.Supp.3d __, 2016 WL 1383715 (E.D. Pa., April 7, 2016) held that Plaintiff failed to allege that Defendant did not act in good faith in the interactive process pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act and granted Defendant’s Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss, but allowed Plaintiff leave to file amended complaint.

 

Plaintiff was hired by Defendant in February 2012 as a part-time teller/sales associate at Defendant’s Slatington, Pennsylvania branch.  Shortly after her hire, Plaintiff made an oral request for an accommodation relative to her various conditions including a permanent, right-sided long thoracic and suprascapular nerve injury, fibromyalgia, and a non-displaced tear of the right superior glenoid labrum, which together caused Plaintiff extreme pain and fatigue when Plaintiff performed repetitive motions.  Due to these injuries, Plaintiff requested that she not be required to work the drive-through banking window as she was unable to repeatedly operate the pneumatic tubes used by drive-through customers.  Plaintiff initially made the request to Defendant’s branch managers, and after receiving no response, submitted an identical written accommodation request online.  Defendant granted the request in March or April, 2012, and continued to allow the accommodation until September 2013.  It was during that period that the drive-through window was reconfigured in an effort to eliminate the need for overhead reaching by employees.

 

Plaintiff alleged that in November 2012 she attempted to operate the reconfigured drive-through window, but experienced pain.  Defendant again accommodated her by removing her from drive-through duties.  In August 2013, Defendant’s Accommodations Specialist wrote to Plaintiff’s physician requesting clarification with respect to Plaintiff’s physical limitations.  Plaintiff’s physician responded that the reconfigured drive-through work station should alleviate Plaintiff’s pain.

 

In September 2013, Defendant’s branch manager told Plaintiff that working the drive-through station was an essential function of Plaintiff’s position and that due to staffing shortages, Plaintiff would no longer be provided the assistance of a second employee to assist Plaintiff in handling the pneumatic tubes.  Thereafter, Plaintiff worked at the reconfigured station for one day, and then took a leave of absence claiming that she experienced extreme pain.  In January 2014, Plaintiff’s physician cleared Plaintiff to return to work on the restriction that she not be required to work the drive-through station until a function capacity evaluation was performed.  Defendant responded that Plaintiff position would be held open until February 7, 2014, to accommodate the functional capacity evaluation scheduled for January 28, 2014.

 

Following the evaluation, Plaintiff’s physician communicated to Defendant that Plaintiff needed to be limited to jobs that did not require overhead reaching or pushing or pulling with her right arm.  Defendant advised Plaintiff that she could perform the position using her left arm.  Plaintiff never returned to work for Defendant.

 

Plaintiff filed claims with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and alleged that Defendant failed to provide a reasonable accommodation, which resulted in Plaintiff being forced from her job.  Upon receiving a Right to Sue, Plaintiff filed suit in Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas.  Defendant removed the action, and thereafter, filed a 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim, alleging that Defendant did not fail to accommodate Plaintiff and that Plaintiff was not qualified to perform the essential functions of her position with or without a reasonable accommodation.

 

The court observed that discrimination occurs under the ADA where the employer does not make reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of the individual unless the employer can demonstrate that providing the accommodation would cause an undue hardship on the operation of the business of the employer.  The court further observed that both the employer and the employee have a duty to assist in the search for an appropriate reasonable accommodation and to act in good faith.  The court opined that an employee can demonstrate that an employer breached its duty to provide reasonable accommodations because it failed to engage in good faith in the interactive process by showing that: 1) the employer knew about the employee’s disability; 2) the employee requested accommodations or assistance for his or her disability; 3) the employer did not make a good faith effort to assist the employee in seeking accommodations; and 4) the employee could have been reasonably accommodated but for the employer’s lack of good faith.

 

The court held that even viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, she failed to show a lack of good faith by Defendant, which was fatal to her failure to accommodate claim.  The court observed that an employer has no requirement to provide an employee the exact accommodation that they want; rather, the interactive process requires only that employers make a good-faith effort to seek accommodations.   The court found that Defendant, throughout the process, made every effort to accommodate Plaintiff and her disability.  The court further found that although Plaintiff did not get the accommodation she desired, the accommodation offered by Defendant addressed all the limitations that her physician placed on her.  The court therefore granted Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss.  The plaintiff was provided an opportunity to file an amended complaint and has since done so with the case proceeding at this time based on the amended complaint.