Employer Accommodations Extend to Workplace Access and Privileges of Employment

  • Nov 16, 2021
  • ADA
  • Janell Stanton

A recent decision in EEOC v. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan serves as a stark reminder for employers that the ADA’s duty to accommodate employees doesn’t stop at those accommodations an employee needs to perform the essential functions of a job.  Employers also must provide employees with accommodations that allow access to the workplace and other privileges and benefits of employment.

In the Kaiser case, an employee, Sharion Murphy, suffered from a number of impairments including PTSD and claustrophobia.  Murphy requested an accommodation from Kaiser to be allowed to enter the building through a non-revolving door.  Kaiser refused Murphy’s numerous requests even though the building Murphy worked in had both revolving and non-revolving doors.  Eventually, Murphy contacted the EEOC to complain about Kaiser’s denial of her requested accommodation.

After pre-litigation conciliation efforts failed, the EEOC filed suit on behalf of Murphy.  In Kaiser’s motion for summary judgment, Kaiser argued that Murphy failed to indicate how the employee’s claustrophobia impacted her ability to perform the essential functions of her job.  In its August 9, 2021, decision, the Honorable Amy Totenberg for the Northern District of Georgia, found Kaiser’s arguments unpersuasive.  The court held that the ADA requires employers to reasonably accommodate qualified, disabled employees by “making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.”  42 U.S.C. 12111(9)(A).  Importantly, an employer’s obligation to accommodate an employee extends beyond those that would allow an employee to perform the essential functions of their job.

With the court’s order finding Kaiser liable for violating the ADA, Kaiser agreed to pay Murphy $130,000 and entered into a consent decree agreeing to other remedial measures including training, modifications to employee forms, and allowing the EEOC to monitor its accommodations process.

Bottom Line

Employers must understand that employees are entitled to reasonable accommodations which allow them to access the workplace and enjoy the other privileges and benefits of employment.  Accommodations are not limited to those that allow an employee to perform the essential functions of the job.  Individuals that handle employee accommodation requests must be aware of the various types of accommodations an employer may need to provide.