Both the EEOC and several court decisions have recognized that an employer’s duty under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act to furnish reasonable accommodations is not limited to accommodating essential functions at work, but also ancillary functions important to achieving equal access – such as commuting to and from the office. See 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(1); Colwell v. Rite Aid Corp., 602 F.3d 495 (3d Cir. 2010) (partly-blind employee could be accommodated with daylight shifts, to facilitate her commute). And so, too, the Fifth Circuit holds – reversing summary judgment – that the State of Louisiana might be required to provide a free on-site parking space to accommodate the plaintiff’s disability (osteoarthritis of the knee).
Feist v. State of Louisiana, No. 12-31065 (5th Cir. Sept. 17, 2013): The opinion is light on facts (it occupies just eight pages). It pinpoints the state’s key legal argument that “reasonable Accomodation” need only be provided to directly enable employees to perform essential functions of the job. Evidently, the state did not consider commuting to work to be “essential,” and the district court adopted that stance in granting summary judgment.
The Fifth Circuit reverses. It holds, adopting the EEOC’s regulation, that there are three categories of Accomodation commanded by the statute:
“(i) Modifications or adjustments to a job application process that enable a qualified applicant with a disability to be considered for the position such qualified applicant desires; or
“(ii) Modifications or adjustments to the work environment . . . that enable an individual with a disability who is qualified to perform the essential functions of that position; or
“(iii) Modifications or adjustments that enable a covered entity’s employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by its other similarly situated employees without disabilities.”
29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(1) (emphasis added). Indeed, the EEOC’s guidance provides directly that “reserved parking spaces” may constitute reasonable accommodation under some circumstances. 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 App., § 1630.2(o).
Thus, “because the district court erred in requiring a nexus between the requested accommodation and the essential functions of Feist’s position, we vacate the judgment and remand for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.”
The logic of this position might support other claims, including assistive technology and adaptive equipment to enable disabled employees to navigate the workplace.