No Duty to Explore Cause of Poor Performance Absent Notice of Correlation to Disability


A federal district court in Washington refused to require an employer, absent some notice from an employee of the need to do so, to investigate the cause of the employee’s poor performance to explore whether it might be caused by a known disability. In Kelley v., a customer service representative sued her former employer for, among other things, failing to accommodate her disabilities and to engage in the interactive process. The employer knew the employee suffered from migraines and endometriosis, and granted several leave and schedule modification requests during her employment. Following a decline in her performance, as measured by the percentage of unresolved customer problems, the employer placed plaintiff on two consecutive performance improvement plans, followed by remedial training and a final performance improvement plan. During the process, the plaintiff’s supervisor criticized the plaintiff’s tone and approach with customers, observing that the plaintiff “came across as unapologetic, distracted, short, uninterested, uncaring and rushed.” When her performance did not improve, the company terminated her employment.

In her lawsuit, the plaintiff claimed the employer had a duty to look into the reason for her poor performance to determine whether it was caused by her disabilities and to accommodate her disabilities. The court rejected both contentions. First, the law did not require the company to explore a causal connection between the termination and the plaintiff’s disabilities absent some notice from the plaintiff to that effect. Second, the law did not require the employer to accommodate the plaintiff’s disabilities by lowering its uniform performance standard, which was an essential function of the job.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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