The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that an employee need not show a direct link between a requested accommodation and the performance of essential job functions to establish a discrimination claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In doing so, the appeals court reinstated a fired employee's failure to accommodate claim. Feist v. Louisiana, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 19133 (5th Cir. Sept. 16, 2013).
The case arose from a dispute over a parking space. A former attorney with the Louisiana Department of Justice claimed her employer violated the ADA by refusing to provide her with a free, on-site parking spot to accommodate her disability (osteoarthritis of the knee).
The 5th Circuit rejected the employer's argument that an employee must show a connection between an accommodation request and an essential job function in order to prevail under the ADA. The appeals court found there is nothing to indicate that such a requirement exists. It also cited an EEOC guidance that notes "providing reserved parking spaces" may constitute reasonable accommodation under some circumstances.
The appeals court expressed no opinion as to whether this proposed accommodation was reasonable, but sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. A separate claim for unlawful retaliation was dismissed.
The New Orleans-based 5th Circuit covers Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi, and traditionally is viewed as one of the most employer-friendly appeals courts in the nation. In light of the 5th Circuit's holding, employers beyond those three states should also give serious consideration to accommodation requests dealing with workplace access. They also should be aware that the EEOC has taken a strong enforcement stance against employers that fail to adhere to the ADA.