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Duty to Provide Commuting Accommodations?

Published by on November 29, 2011

On August 10, 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that, in certain circumstances, an employer may be obligated to provide commuting accommodations to employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  More after the break. Plaintiff-Appellant Barbara K. Nixon-Tinkelman sued the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene […]

On August 10, 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that, in certain circumstances, an employer may be obligated to provide commuting accommodations to employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  More after the break.

Plaintiff-Appellant Barbara K. Nixon-Tinkelman sued the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the City of New York under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act for failure to provide reasonable accommodations.

Tinkelman is hearing impaired and suffers from cancer, heart problems, and asthma.  She argued that defendants should have provide her with a special telephone or device for the hearing impaired while she was stationed in Manhattan and that they should have accommodated her with respect to her commute to work. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants in regard to both accommodations.

The Second Circuit agreed with the district court that Tinkelman could not recover for the hearing impaired device because the she did not request the special telephone during the actual duration of her work in Manhattan.  Furthermore, when Tinkelman had previously requested accommodation for her hearing impairment, defendants had willingly provided her with special devices.

The Second Circuit, however, disagreed with the district court in regards to Tinkelman’s commuting accommodation.  The court ruled that “in certain circumstances, an employer may have an obligation to assist in an employee’s commute.”  The court said that there is nothing unreasonable in requiring an employer to assist an otherwise qualified disabled employee in her commute to work.

Subsequently, the Second Circuit remanded the case to the district court to determine whether it would have been reasonable for the defendants to accommodate Tinkelman’s commuting needs.  The court ordered that the district court consider certain factors in determining reasonableness – the number of employees employed by defendants, the number and location of its offices, whether it had other available positions for which Tinkelman would qualify, whether Tinkelman could have been shifted to a more convenient office without unduly burdening defendants, and the reasonableness of allowing Tinkelman to work off site.

To read the full Second Circuit opinion, click here.

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