A recent decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is a good reminder that the ADA does not require that an employee be granted the exact accommodation they are seeking. Rather, an employer fulfills its obligation when it offers to provide a reasonable alternative accommodation. Murphy v. County of New Hanover, No. 21-1471 (September 17, 2021).
Dante Murphy was employed by the county of New Hanover, North Carolina. Due to a medical condition, Murphy asked to be moved to an enclosed office. Although the County took two months to act on the request, it did move him to a shared office. Murphy took issue with the fact that that office was not private, contending this was not an effective accommodation.
The Fourth Circuit sided with the County, holding that a private office was not required to meet its obligations under the ADA. As the Court stated, the ADA only “requires a reasonable accommodation, not a perfect one.”
The Fourth Circuit also ruled that the County’s decision to terminate Murphy less than two months after implementing the accommodation did not violate the ADA. The Court found that the record showed Murphy’s performance was not improving, despite the accommodation. Quoting its earlier decision in Myers v. Hose, 50 F. 3d 278, 283 (4th Cir. 1995), the Court stated “nothing in the text of the reasonable accommodation provision requires an employer to wait an indefinite period for an accommodation to achieve its intended effect.”
The Murphy decision illustrates the flexibility that the ADA leaves in the hands of the employer. While it is critical for the employer to engage in the interactive process and make an attempt to reasonably accommodate the employee or applicant, it is ultimately up to the employer to decide what it can reasonably do to allow the individual to perform the essential functions of their job.