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Is Refusal To Work With Supervisor A Reasonable Accommodation?

Published by on May 20, 2011

In Larson v. Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Transportation, et. al., 5:10-cv-00136, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia (April 5, 2011), Plaintiff Karl Larson alleged that VDOT and Gregory Whirley, the Commissioner of VDOT, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq. (“ADA”) by failing to reassign him to a […]

In Larson v. Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Transportation, et. al., 5:10-cv-00136, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia (April 5, 2011), Plaintiff Karl Larson alleged that VDOT and Gregory Whirley, the Commissioner of VDOT, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq. (“ADA”) by failing to reassign him to a different supervisor after a “verbal altercation” with his current supervisor left him with a case of post-traumatic stress disorder.  Is refusal to work with a supervisor a “reasonable accommodation”?  More after the break.

According to the plaintiff’s complaint, Larson, a Human Resources Manager for VDOT, had a verbal altercation with his supervisor Quintin Elliott, a District Administrator for VDOT on October 20, 2008.  Larson alleged that Elliott verbally assaulted him, “putting him in apprehension for his safety.”  Larson alleged that a physician diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder, as a result of the altercation.  Larson left work for several weeks after the altercation.  On November 18, 2008, Larson announced he could return to work, but only in a position where he would not have any immediate contact with Elliott.  Larson attempted to meet with VDOT officials to discuss his proposal, but it refused to consider any arrangement that did not require Larson to work with the Elliott.  Larson’s employment was eventually terminated.

Defendants moved to dismiss Larson’s compliant on the ground that Larson only offered to return to work on the condition that he would no longer be required to have any contact with Elliott, and that such an accommodation is unreasonable as a matter of law.  The court agreed, and dismissed Larson’s complaint.  According to the Court, Larson did not plausibly allege that VDOT failed to reasonably accommodate him.  Larson, as stated above, offered to return to work only if he would not have to work with or report to his supervisor.  The Third, Sixth and Seventh Circuits have all held that such an accommodation is unreasonable as a matter of law.      The “fact” that Larson’s argument with Elliott was the genesis of his diagnosed condition does not distinguish this case, nor change the evaluation.  Especially considering that the Sixth Circuit case finding such an accommodation was unreasonable as a matter of law dealt with the same argument.  Further, VDOT did not have a duty to engage in discussion with Larson regarding such a clearly unreasonable proposed accommodation, particularly since he made it clear that his willingness to return to work was conditioned on the VDOT’s compliance with his request.  Accordingly, defendants’ 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss was granted. 

The full text of the opinion can be found here.

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