A recent decision from the Northern District of Alabama reinforces that the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) does not guarantee disabled employees an accommodation of their choosing. Instead, accommodations offered by an employer only need to be “reasonable.” See Maddox v. ALDOT, No. 2:15-cv-00312-MHH, 2018 WL 3241212 (N.D. Ala. Jul. 3, 2018).
In Maddox, the employee suffered from allergies to dust and asphalt, and also worked for the Alabama Department of Transportation (“ALDOT”). ALDOT provided numerous accommodations to Ms. Maddox. ALDOT allowed her to leave work anytime asphalt fumes affected her breathing. It provided an air purifier and replaced the air ventilation system in Ms. Maddox’s building. ALDOT even relocated an asphalt lab to the rear of the building in which Ms. Maddox worked. ALDOT also offered to transfer Ms. Maddox to a different office in Shelby County, but Ms. Maddox declined and requested a transfer to ALDOT’s main office in Montgomery. However, the main office was undergoing mold remediation and ALDOT would only permit the transfer if her doctor stated that the main office would be a safe environment. When Ms. Maddox’s doctor declined to issue such an opinion, she argued that ALDOT should allow her to take sick leave until a clean-air environment could be created. ALDOT declined to provide such leave.
Ms. Maddox sued under the ADA claiming that ALDOT failed to provide a reasonable accommodation for her alleged disability. For purposes of deciding the case, United States District Court Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala assumed that the allergies amounted to a “disability” under the ADA. Nevertheless, Judge Haikala focused upon the fact that the ADA only requires “reasonable accommodations.” Indeed, it is well-established that a qualified individual with a disability is “not entitled to the accommodation of her choice, but only a reasonable accommodation.” Stewart v. Happy Herman’s Chesire Bridge, Inc., 117 F.3d 1278, 1286 (11th Cir. 1997).
Judge Haikala noted her sympathy with Ms. Maddox’s frustration, but held that the ADA “does not require an employee to create an environment completely free of fumes, dust, mold or other allergens to accommodate an employee’s health condition.” Judge Haikala found that ALDOT’s proffered accommodations were reasonable; therefore, she dismissed Ms. Maddox’s case.
Maddox provides excellent guidance for employers struggling to accommodate employees’ health conditions. In most cases, employers should follow ALDOT’s lead and attempt to find some solution/accommodation for the employees’ health issues. But, at some point, requested accommodations cross the line from “reasonable” to unreasonable. In those cases, the employer’s other efforts to provide reasonable accommodations can help prove that the employee’s requested accommodation is not reasonable.
****For lawyers/lovers of the law**** Maddox was decided under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In employment cases, the standards of the Rehabilitation Act are the same as the standards applied under Title I of the ADA.