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Disability discrimination and reasonable accommodations

Employer can’t just argue that a disabled employee is unqualified because he/she can’t do a newly assigned job. The employer must agree to an interactive dialogue that considers reasonable accommodations.

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) ruled that an employer was liable for disability discrimination after it fired an employee who had a traumatic brain injury because, it claimed, the employee could not handle new tasks that he never previously performed. Even though the employee asked for reasonable accommodations to help him meet the goals after he received a Performance Improvement Plan for the new job, the employer made no sincere effort to do so.

Under the law, an employer may not discriminate against a qualified handicapped employee who can do his/her job, either with or without a reasonable accommodation. The employer argued that the disabled employee was not qualified because he could not perform the newly assigned job.

The MCAD disagreed. It held that the employee’s qualifications should be analyzed in terms of his prior job. Otherwise an employee’s rights to be free from disability discrimination could be lost merely by reassigning a disabled employee to a job that he cannot do and then claiming a reasonable accommodation is not feasible.

The MCAD found that that the employee’s managers improperly decided that they did not have to engage in an interactive dialogue about a reasonable accommodation because the employee was already using memory aids and had been cleared to return to work. They made no effort to assess whether the employee’s request for certain reasonable accommodations, including more time to perform the new functions, was feasible.

Ultimately, this case came down to two important mistakes about what the law requires of employers: (1) The employer failed to engage in a legally required interactive dialogue to consider reasonable accommodations, and (2) The employer’s failure to offer a reasonable accommodation after one was identified is a violation of the law against disability discrimination.

The case is reported as MCAD v. Raytheon Company.

Pamela A. Smith
Law Office of Pamela A. Smith
233 Needham Street, Suite 540
Newton, MA 02464


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