Two plaintiffs’ cases (one under the Rehabilitation Act from the D.C. Circuit, the other under Title VII from the Tenth Circuit) founder on the same shortcoming: according to the employers, all the employees had to do was ask for accommodations, but they never did.
Stewart v. St. Elizabeths Hospital, No. 09-7013 (D.C. Cir. Jan. 5, 2010): The district court granted summary judgment in part, and entered judgment as a matter of law in part, in a case brought by a hospital housekeeping aide. She alleged that her working conditions — in a maximum-security wing of mentally-ill criminal defendants — crushed her emotionally, and caused her to be unable to function at work (crying, heart palpitations, and the like). The experience culminated in the plaintiff witnessing an incarceree exposing himself. She filed an incident report, but (critically) did not provide medical documentation of any disability. Before she could be transferred out of the ward, the plaintiff attempted suicide and never returned to work.
The D.C. Circuit holds that the evidence in the record failed to present a genuine issue of material fact about whether the hospital knew about her mental illness up through October 2002. She admitted that she had never told anyone on staff about her mental disability until shortly before she left the workplace. Moreover, the hospital was not on constructive notice of the disability:
“Stewart was visibly upset after a patient exposed himself to her, such a reaction alone was not indicative of mental illness. And after the later incident where she was found crying and shaking, Stewart told her supervisor that her distress stemmed from a personal matter. J.A. 146. Stewart’s supervisors could not be expected to attribute those reactions to a mental illness that qualified as a disability. Indeed, most other signs about Stewart’s work and behavior would have led her supervisors to the opposite conclusion: Stewart reasonably explained why she was upset after both incidents, she completed her work assignments in a satisfactory manner, her attendance record was excellent, and she took leave only for typical personal and family issues — car trouble, babysitting difficulties, deaths in her family, her children’s illnesses, and her own minor illnesses.”
Concerning the short period that transpired after she notified the hospital of her asserted disability, the panel affirms the district court’s holding that — as a matter of law — the plaintiff failed to prove that the hospital denied an accommodation. The responsible hospital representative said that he would try to assist Stewart as soon as she submitted the necessary paperwork, which she unfortunately never completed.
Stanley v. Abacus Technology Corp., No. 08-2306 (10th Cir. Jan. 5, 2010): In this unpublished decision, the panel considered summary judgment of a claim that the employer — a photography studio — did not afford the plaintiff (a new mother) scheduling accommodations to breastfeed her daughter, supposedly in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
The panel holds, affirming the district court, that there was no adverse action because the plaintiff never sought the schedule accommodations in the first place:
“Stanley testified she never specifically requested an ongoing accommodation to breastfeed her child during lunch. Applee. Supp. App. at 56, 60. Instead, she would ask for individual assignments to be rescheduled if there was a conflict with her lunch hour. Id. She could not recall a single time when Aguilar refused her request to reschedule a lunchtime assignment. Id. at 60. Because she never made a permanent request for an accommodation and all of her temporary schedule requests were granted, the district court concluded she had suffered no actionable discrimination.”
When the employee was finally terminated for refusing to accept a job request, it was not specifically because of a conflict with her nursing schedule but — as the panel sees it — because of the plaintiff’s attitude: “Stanley made no request for a scheduling accommodation that day nor claimed a need to breastfeed her daughter at the time she refused the job request. As she explained in her memo to Human Resources the day after her termination, she ‘had just left the base after completing [a] job to pick up some lunch and head back to work. Within 5 minutes of leaving this job, I received a call from Mrs. Oliver requesting that I cover an Alert call that had just been received. I told her, ‘No way, I’m on lunch.” Id. at 93. Although Stanley claims she normally feeds her daughter during lunch and was therefore frustrated to receive two assignments during lunch, she never indicates she made a request that day to receive an accommodation during her lunch hour. Id. In addition, Aguilar’s concern, as expressed in the termination letter, was her ‘flippant’ attitude in refusing the job assignment.”
So the lesson for employees seems to be, as always, know when to ask and what to ask for.