The New York Court of Appeals ruled last Thursday that a disabled employee’s request for an indefinite leave of absence is not a per se unreasonable accommodation under the New York City Human Rights Law. Rather, the state’s highest court ruled that the employer must prove that it would be an “undue hardship” for an employee to take indefinite leave. In Romanello v. Intesa Sanpaolo S.P.A., 2013 NY Slip Op 06600, the plaintiff, Giuseppe Romanello, advised his employer that he would return to work at an “indeterminate” date after recovering from his major depression. Romanello was then terminated and brought suit claiming that his employer discriminated against him on the basis of his disability. The New York Court of Appeals held that the employer did not prove that Romanello’s indefinite leave request would cause the employer undue hardship as required under the New York City Human Rights Law. In its ruling, the Court reemphasized that the New York City Human Rights Law should be “construed broadly in favor of discrimination plaintiffs.”
The Court’s ruling gives New York City’s disabled employees broader protection under the New York City Human Rights Law than the protection these same employees receive under federal law. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act the employee bears the burden of identifying a reasonable accommodation and, in Parker v. Columbia Pictures Indus., 204 F.3d 326, 334 (2d Cir. 2000), the Second Circuit affirmed that an indefinite leave of absence is not considered a reasonable accommodation. Under this new New York Court of Appeals ruling, however, New York City employers must now review each disabled employee’s indefinite leave request on a case by case basis in order to determine whether the leave will create an undue hardship.