10th Circuit: ADA Does Not Require “Retroactive Lenience” as a Reasonable Accommodation

 gavel on a law book with blurry library in background

by Andy Jones
February 2, 2017

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled January 18 that the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company did not run afoul of the ADA by firing an employee for conduct likely resulting from her disabilities because she had not requested a reasonable accommodation prior to the incident. 

The employee at the center of the lawsuit, who has diabetes, worked as a customer service representative with the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company from 1997 to 2010. On March 10 of that year, she experienced a severe drop in her blood sugar levels and dropped two calls, leading to her dismissal five days later. 

The Disability Rights Center of Kansas filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the employee, arguing that the company’s actions constitute a violation of the ADA, on the basis that it failed to reasonably accommodate her prior to the incident that led to her termination. The EEOC filed a supporting amicus brief in 2014.

The district court ruled in favor of the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company and the 10th Circuit, finding that the employee's disabiliites did not require the company to provide any "retroactive leniancy" of its alleged violations of its work conduct polciies.

“The (Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act) does not require employers to reasonably accommodate an employee’s disability by overlooking past misconduct—irrespective of whether the misconduct resulted from the employee’s disability,” the Court stated. “The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (“EEOC”) Enforcement Guidance makes clear that the requirement to provide reasonable accommodations under the ADAAA is ‘always prospective,’ and that ‘an employer is not required to excuse past misconduct even if it is the result of the individual’s disability.’”

The full decision can be read here [PDF].

Disability Rights Washington and the Disability Rights Center for Kansas are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Washington and Kansas, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.