California Court: Employers Must Discuss Accommodations With
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 6, 2006
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA--Employers in California must work with potential and existing employees "regarded" to have physical disabilities in order to provide reasonable accommodations, a state appeals court ruled last week.
The case involved Charles Gelfo, who worked as a metal fitter for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., a division of Lockheed Martin Corp, from 1980 to 1984, and again from 1997 to October 2000 -- one month after he injured his back on the job.
The next spring, Gelfo's doctor released him to his old job, but because of the reduction in force, no metal fitting jobs were available. Lockheed later offered Gelfo a job as a plastics fabricator. The company withdrew the offer after deciding that he could not perform the essential functions of the new position based on the earlier restrictions, and told him that a reasonable accommodation was not possible -- even though Gelfo said his back was no longer causing him trouble.
Gelfo said that if the company had sat down and discussed the matter with him, it would have learned that the only accommodation he might have needed would have been to allow him to take an additional break every now and then, or to sit on a stool from time to time.
Gelfo filed a civil lawsuit against the company, claiming it discriminated against him because of his disability in violation of California's Fair Employment and Housing Act, and wrongful termination in violation of public policy.
In its ruling Friday, the appellate court said that Lockheed cannot avoid liability under the state discrimination law by simply pointing to medical reports in Gelfo's file.
Justice Paul Boland wrote that the company's policy requiring an employee be '100 percent healed' before returning to work even violated the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, because "it permits an employer to avoid the required individualized assessment of the employee's ability to perform the essential functions of the job with or without accommodation."
The Justice added that an employer "must engage in an informal interactive process aimed at effecting a reasonable accommodation, and provide a necessary and reasonable accommodation."
"In sum, when an employer needs to fill a position and an applicant or employee desires the position, the interactive process is designed to bring the two parties together to speak freely and to determine whether a reasonable, mutually satisfactory accommodation is possible to meet their respective needs."
Related court decision:
"Gelfo v. Lockheed Martin Corporation" (California 2nd District Court of Appeal)