ADA Does Not Require Reasonable Accommodation To Be Related To Essential Function

In Feist v. Louisiana, No. 12-31065 (5th Cir. Sept. 16, 2013), the Fifth Circuit concluded that a former employee of the Louisiana Department of Justice (LDOJ) was not required to demonstrate that she needed a designated parking spot in order to perform an essential job function.

Pauline Feist, a former assistant attorney general for the LDOJ, sued her former employer under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), alleging that the LDOJ discriminated against her when it refused to give her a free on-site parking space as an accommodation for her osteoarthritis and subsequently terminated her after she filed a charge with the EEOC.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the LDOJ, reasoning that Feist “failed to explain how the denial of on-site parking limited her ability to perform the ‘essential functions’ of her job.”  On appeal, Feist argued that the ADA does not require that the requested accommodation to be connected to an essential job function.

Discrimination under the ADA includes failure to make a reasonable accommodation to a known physical/mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability.  An employer need not make an accommodation that would impose an undue hardship.  In Feist’s case, she was a qualified individual with a disability and the LDOJ was aware of the disability.  Feist’s argument was that “reasonable accommodations are not restricted to modifications that enable performance of essential job functions.”

As the Fifth Circuit explained, the ADA sets forth what may constitute reasonable accommodations, however, the statute does not state “that an accommodation must facilitate the essential functions of one’s position.”  Government regulations and EEOC guidance contain similar language ­— a reasonable accommodation need not relate to performance of essential job functions.

In fact, Feist’s requested accommodation likely would have fit within the first part of the definition of reasonable accommodation:  “making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.”  42 U.S.C. § 12111(9).

Based on this reasoning, the Fifth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded the case.  The court, however, did not determine whether Feist’s proposed accommodation was reasonable.

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