Employee Who Quit During The Interactive Process Is Barred From Asserting That The Employer Failed To Accommodate Her Disability
After an employer restructured its staffing system, plaintiff, who suffered from diabetes, was given a schedule of inconsistent “swing shifts” and unpredictable hours. When plaintiff informed her supervisor that working erratic shifts was aggravating her diabetes, she was directed to obtain a doctor’s note to support her request for more predictable work hours, which she did. The employer met with plaintiff to engage in the “interactive process” required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The employer informed plaintiff that it could not provide the schedule she requested, but was willing to discuss alternative accommodations. Plaintiff declared that she had “no choice but to quit,” put her keys on the table, and walked out of the meeting, slamming the door behind her. The employer followed plaintiff to ask her to reconsider, and later tried to contact her, but she refused to answer. The employer treated her departure as a resignation.
The EEOC brought suit on plaintiff’s behalf claiming, among other things, that the employer had failed to accommodate her disability. A federal district court entered summary judgment for the employer based on plaintiff’s failure to engage in the interactive process, and ruled that a reasonable person in plaintiff’s position would not have felt compelled to resign when she did. The First Circuit Court of Appeals, in Boston, upheld the dismissal by a two-to-one vote in EEOC v. Kohl’s Dep’t Stores, Inc., 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 24043 (1st Cir. 2014). The appeals court majority noted that the ADA requires an “interactive process” between a disabled employee and the employer in the search for a reasonable accommodation. This process, the court stated, requires “bilateral cooperation and communication” and that both parties engage in that process “in good faith.” As plaintiff failed to cooperate in the process, the employer could not be held liable under the ADA.