27 Mar ADA slips are expensive
Though several court rulings have sided with employers that denied extended leave as an ADA accommodation, the issue is far from settled. And a recent lawsuit shows that employers denying additional leave is still a risky proposition.
Previous rulings all dealt with employees asking for multi-month or indefinite leave as an accommodation under the ADA, which the courts agreed were both unreasonable.
In Hill v. Asian American Drug Abuse Program Inc., though, an employee requested a much smaller amount of additional leave, which may have contributed to her victory.
Della Hill was a counselor for a drug abuse program in Los Angeles. After injuring her arm and getting diagnosed with depression, Hill took leave and had a scheduled return date. She exhausted that leave and still needed more time to recover. Under California state law, she requested an extension of her leave by 18 days.
Hill’s employer ignored the request and fired her after she didn’t return to work. It did not discuss with her any other accommodations or the possibility of returning to her job in the future. Hill filed a lawsuit, and the court ruled in her favor.
The payout was a whopping $4.5 million. The breakdown was:
• $550,000 in past and future wage loss
• $1.35 million in compensatory damages, and
• $2.6 million in punitive damages.
The jury said the employer failed to engage in the interactive process, and simply firing Hill was evidence of “malice, oppression, or fraud.”
While this was an additional leave case under state law and not the ADA, the employer’s actions are a great example of what not to do when handling these kinds of requests.
The interactive process with the employee is always the first and most important step. Even if the amount of leave they’re requesting is unreasonable, it’s crucial to try to find another accommodation.
It’s worth noting that in this case, the leave extension the employee was requesting was only 18 days — much shorter than the several months of added leave in all the circuit court rulings.
In some cases, 18 days of additional leave may be reasonable, and a court could potentially rule against an employer for not granting it.