Disability Discrimination Under Massachusetts Law
Statistically, plaintiffs in disability discrimination cases lose significantly more trials than they win. Furthermore, many plaintiffs do not even get their proverbial ‘day in court’ because the employer is able to knock the lawsuit out by filing a dispositive Rule 56 summary judgment motion. We have a theory as to why plaintiffs struggle to succeed in disability discrimination lawsuits.
The problem is that the plaintiff has to walk a tightrope. If the plaintiff’s medical condition or disability is so severe that the employee cannot perform the essential elements of the job with an accommodation, then the plaintiff loses the lawsuit. However, if the plaintiff’s medical condition or disability is only temporary or not sufficiently debilitating, then they fail to qualify as a disabled employee. Savvy defense attorneys, through the use of depositions and other tactics, get the plaintiff to lean too heavily to one side, thus defeating the plaintiff’s claims.
Massachusetts’ employers are obligated to not only provided reasonable accommodations to disabled employees, but these companies are also obligated to engage in an interactive process with disabled employees. The employee does not have to use exact or special language, such as, “I need an accommodation.” As long as the employee provides adequate notice that he or she has a serious medical condition, this triggers the company’s obligation to begin a dialogue with the employee to determine what, if anything, the company should do in response.
Accommodations need to be reasonable. For example, if an employee who has an office on the second floor of an older, non-ADA-compliant building has serious mobility issues, it would not be reasonable for the employee to expect that the company will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to retrofit the building with an elevator. However, allowing the employee to relocate his or her office from the second floor to the first floor may constitute a reasonable accommodation. Every situation needs to be analyzed separately because there are no one-size-fits-all solutions to accommodating disability employees.
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