Another Spin on ADAAA Accommodations: Employee May Be Entitled to Swivel Chair

Kollman & Saucier
Kollman & Saucier

AA Maryland federal court ruled that the United States Postal Service may be required to provide a disabled employee with a swivel chair to alleviate neck and back pain, even though the employer had already modified job duties and provided the employee with special equipment.   Dones v. Brennan, No. 8:12-cv-03369 (D. Md. 11/23/15).
In this case, Plaintiff Dones worked as a mail processor for the United States Postal Service (USPS) where he sorted and distributed mail. After sustaining an on the job injury resulting in neck and back pain, Dones submitted a doctor’s note to USPS stating that he shouldn’t twist his neck while working and that he needed a “swivel chair.”
In response to his requests, USPS offered Dones a “light-duty” assignment, indicating that Dones would not be required to twist his neck. Dones was also provided a “rest bar” to lean on while he worked. Even though other employees were permitted to work in swivel chairs, Dones’s request for such a chair was denied.
Meanwhile, Dones claimed that the offered accommodations were insufficient to alleviate his pain, and continued to make requests for a swivel chair, even offering to pay the costs. After repeated denials, Dones was directed to submit his request to the Department of Labor. In response, he retired and filed suit.
Among other claims, Dones’s lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, alleged that USPS failed to accommodate his disability under the ADA. In defense, USPS argued that it did provide Dones with reasonable accommodations, including a modified job assignment and a rest bar, and that the ADA does not require an employer to provide an employee with the exact accommodation requested by the employee.
Unpersuaded by USPS, the court determined that this was a not a case where USPS “simply failed to provide Plaintiff’s preferred accommodation.” Rather, the issue was whether USPS had provided “an effective, reasonable accommodation at all.” Taking into consideration that there was no claim by USPS that the requested accommodation would cause an undue hardship, the case was allowed to proceed to trial.

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