A pharmacist with trypanophobia (a fear of needles, yes I had to Google that), worked for Rite Aid Corp. (and its predecessors) for 34 years. In 2011, Rite Aid made administering immunizations an explicit job requirement for its pharmacists. The needle-fearing pharmacist submitted medical notes about his trypanophobia which explained his blood pressure would spike, he would get anxious and lightheaded at the sight of a needle, and could faint, possibly harming himself and others. He requested an accommodation.
Rite Aid did not agree that the ADA protected the pharmacist’s situation and terminated him. Mr. Stevens, the pharmacist, sued Rite Aid and ultimately was awarded $2.6 million in lost wages and emotional distress damages. Rite Aid filed a post-judgment appeal arguing that the jury misunderstood the law.
In Stevens v. Rite Aid Corp., No. 15-03491 (2d Cir. March 21, 2017), a three-judge panel agreed with Rite Aid. The ADA prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities who can perform the essential functions of a job with or without reasonable accommodation. In this case, Rite Aid properly required that all of its pharmacists be certified to administer vaccinations. Mr. Stevens suggested that Rite Aid offer him desensitization therapy or have another employee administer the immunizations. The Second Circuit held that employers are not obligated to offer medical treatment as a reasonable accommodation (which differs from the possible obligation to grant employees time off to go for medical treatment). Further, the Second Circuit was quick to rely on established precedent that the ADA never requires that a reasonable accommodation involve eliminating essential job functions.
Recognizing that the jury was sympathetic to Mr. Stevens, nevertheless, the appellate court concluded that the evidence confirmed his inability to perform the essential job function of administering immunizations. Employers are permitted to terminate a worker under such circumstances.