The world of employment law can be rather complex, especially when it comes to defining terms as it relates to disability and discrimination. One area that expert lawyers such as Ty Hyderally must correctly interpret is what makes reasonable accommodation. What makes this so difficult to determine is that what might be a reasonable accommodation for one, would not work for another; this means it is determined on a case by case basis which can be complicated. Those interested in employment law have their eyes on a case which involves reasonable accommodations and whether or not a location transfer meets the criteria.
Sanchez vs. Vilsak
Ms. Sanchez is employed by the United States Forest Service. After falling at work she suffered irreversible brain damage which affects her vision. She totally lost the left side in her field of vision. The Tenth Circuit appellate court is set to determine if her employer must consider it a reasonable accommodation to transfer her to another location. Under the Rehabilitation Act the court found that it is a reasonable accommodation to ask for a transfer so that she can receive adequate medical treatment and care.
Sanchez’s Request for Transfer
In this disability discrimination case, Clarice Sanchez did request a transfer so that she could be in a location which is closer to a medical facility. The facility provides her treatment for the lost field of vision due to the work place accident. The employer denied her request for a transfer and they asserted that according to the federal disability discrimination laws they are not required to grant such a transfer to an employee only for the purpose of receiving medical treatment. They also asserted that Sanchez was able to “correct” her vision impairment by just “turning her head.”
The courts chose to allow it to go to a jury trial and are going to leave it up to a jury to decide if her vision difficulties do indeed meet the requirements for a disability; is it substantially limiting major life activities? The jury will have to decide if this falls under the Rehabilitation Act. The district court found that the Forest Service did not have to grant her request since she was not “disabled” under the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act. However, the Tenth Circuit disagreed with this after reviewing the case and concluded that the transfer was a reasonable accommodation since it was for medical treatment and therapy purposes.
Why is this case important?
There are some courts which have already determined that a transfer can be granted for medical treatment and still be within the bounds of reasonable accommodations according to the Rehabilitation Act. The first circuit in several states including New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts has found this to be within the guidelines. The 7th Circuit in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana as well as the 9th Circuit in Alaska, Nevada, Oregon, Idaho and Washington has all agreed that transfers such as these are reasonable accommodations. The second circuit which includes Georgia has yet to issue an opinion as to whether transfers for medical treatments are reasonable or not. This case is important as it can potentially expand the number of courts which determine that transfers are included in reasonable accommodations.
The Rehabilitation Act
The Rehabilitation Act as well as the Americans With Disabilities Act both offer protection to those individuals who are qualified as having a disability. These two laws make it illegal to discriminate against a worker based on their disability such as those described by the Acts. Several types of disabilities are included in the Act as long as they substantially limit at least one major life activity.