Fifth Circuit Says No Nexus Required Between Reasonable Accommodation And Essential Functions

by Pierce Atwood LLP

The vast majority of requests for accommodation aim to help an employee to perform the essential functions of his or her job.  As a result, a large body of case law has developed, defining reasonable accommodations as changes to the workplace that allow employees to perform job functions that, because of a disability, they would otherwise be unable to perform.   In a recent opinion, however, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the Americans with Disabilities Act’s definition of “reasonable accommodation” is not limited to modifications that facilitate job performance.   Under the Fifth Circuit’s analysis in Feist v. State of Louisiana, employers may be obligated to provide accommodations unrelated to the “essential functions” of the job—such as free on-site parking—if necessary to provide an employee with equal access to or benefits and privileges of employment.

In Feist, the plaintiff was an assistant attorney general with osteoarthritis who apparently struggled to walk from the assigned employee parking area to the workplace.  After her employer, the Louisiana Department of Justice (LDOJ), denied her request for free on-site parking, Feist sued, alleging (among other things) that the LDOJ violated the ADA by failing to provide her with reasonable accommodation for her disability.  The trial court granted the LDOJ’s motion for summary judgment, holding there was no evidence the employer’s denial of Feist’s request for on-site parking limited or interfered with her ability to perform the essential functions of her job.  Feist appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, where she and amici, including the Advocacy Center and Disability Rights Texas, argued the obligation to provide reasonable accommodation under the ADA is not limited to modifications related to the essential functions of the job.  The Fifth Circuit agreed with Feist.

The ADA contains a two-pronged definition of “reasonable accommodation.”  First, reasonable accommodation includes “making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.”  This prong is typically applied to require physical modifications to the workplace; but the Fifth Circuit noted that reserved on-site parking “would presumably have made [the plaintiff’s] workplace ‘readily accessible to and usable by’ her . . . .”   Second, the ADA provides a list of modifications, including but not limited to, job restructuring, modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, acquisition or modification of equipment or devices, training materials, etc; and says that “reasonable accommodation” includes “other similar accommodations.”

The ADA’s implementing regulations provide that reasonable accommodation includes: (1) modifications to the application process that enable a qualified applicant with a disability to be considered for the position sought; or (2) modifications to the work environment that enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of that position; or (3) modifications that enable a qualified individual with a disability “to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by . . . other similarly situated employees without disabilities.”  29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(1)(emphasis supplied.)  Relying on the third prong of the regulatory definition and EEOC guidance—which expressly provides that “reserved parking spaces” may be a reasonable accommodation—the court held the ADA does not require a nexus between the requested accommodation and the essential functions of the job and the LDOJ therefore may have had an obligation to grant Feist’s request for free on-site parking.  Whether Feist was in fact entitled to the parking as a reasonable accommodation is an open question that will be decided by the trial court or fact finder.

The scope of employers’ duty to provide reasonable accommodation under the ADA will continue to be the subject of litigation and, therefore, a gray area.  On the one hand, it’s relatively well settled that employers need not provide “personal use” items or amenities (i.e. things needed in accomplishing daily activities both on and off the job).  On the other hand, according to the regulations and Feist, employees are entitled to reasonable accommodations that provide equal access to the benefits and privileges of employment, a concept that is unquestionably broader than employees’ ability to come to work and do their jobs.  While employers and counsel continue to wrestle with the contours of the obligation to provide reasonable accommodation, Feist teaches that employers should avoid analyzing requests for accommodation solely in light of whether they will facilitate job performance.   Employers who, without careful consideration, reject requests for accommodation only loosely connected to the workplace risk running afoul of the ADA.


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.

© Pierce Atwood LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Pierce Atwood LLP

Pierce Atwood LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.