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Blind Texas employee cites disability discrimination

Coming back to work after a disability leave can be tough. It was especially so for a legally blind Texas woman who claims that her employer refused her request for reasonable accommodations.

Was it unreasonable to restrict the movements of her service dog or require that she work with paper rather than electronic files?  Perhaps, but a lot of litigation under the Americans with Disabilities Act turns on that tricky word “reasonable.” Courts consider a number of factors.

Some of these might include:

  • Does the employer have the flexibility to alter an employee’s working conditions? The answer may be different for large and small employers.  
  • Even if a change is possible, will it place an undue burden on the employer? Cost is only one issue. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has indicated, for example, that installing bright lighting in a nightclub to accommodate a visually impaired waitress would substantially affect the experience of patrons and therefore impose an undue burden on the employer.
  • Will the accommodation alter the essential job functions? Employers need not change core job requirements. A long-haul trucker must be medically able to maintain a driver’s license, for example. If this isn't possible, no reasonable accommodation could likely be made.
  • Does the disability pose a direct threat to the health or safety of the employee or others in the workplace that is not eliminated by the accommodation? 

Some workplace alterations are now quite routine, such as fire alarms with strobe lights for the hearing-impaired. Routine suggests reasonable. However, where there are several options, the employer, not the employee, makes the choice. The EEOC requires only that a reasonable accommodation eliminate the workplace barrier. If you have questions about employment discrimination or believe that your employer may be violating your rights, you might wish to contact an employment attorney to discuss your situation.

Source: The Southeast Texas Record, “Lawsuit Accuses CenterPoint Energy of Discriminating Against Blind Employee,” John Suayan, Oct. 22, 2013

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