Utah Employment Law Letter - November 2012: Disability Discrimination: Seeing the forest for the trees: Forest worker’s claim goes to trial by Lance Rich

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If a disabled employee can perform the essential functions of her current position, must an employer grant her job transfer request for medical treatment or therapy if it’s reasonable and not unduly burdensome? In the following case involving a U.S. Forest Service (USFS) employee with a permanent vision impairment, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals (whose rulings apply to all Utah employers) answered the question in the affirmative, providing the big picture for these types of disability claims. Read on to see the court’s vision for how employers should consider such requests.

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Clarice Sanchez, a longtime secretarial employee of the USFS, suffered irreversible brain damage after falling down a flight of stairs at the Lufkin, Texas, USFS office. Her fall caused a nerve condition called homonymous hemianopsia, which resulted in the loss of the left half of her field of vision. As a result of her condition, she complained that she struggled to read documents, couldn’t tolerate bright lights, and suffered eye strain that prevented her from reading or working on a computer for more than 45 minutes at a time. Transportation to work was also a challenge. Sanchez initially relied on family and friends to get her to work and eventually began driving herself on back roads to avoid traffic despite her doctor’s orders not to drive.

Shortly after the accident and her return to work, Sanchez requested a hardship transfer to the Albuquerque, New Mexico, office because no doctors in Lufkin were qualified to provide the specialized therapy she needed to help her adjust to her injury. She explained that she had family and friends in Albuquerque who could support her and noted the lack of public transportation in Lufkin.

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