Refusal of Employee’s Request for “Peaceful Calm Environment” Does Not Constitute Failure to Accommodate Under the ADA
Last week Judge Joseph N. Laplante of the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire issued a decision in Posteraro v. RBS Citizens, N.A., Civil No. 13-cv-416 (D.N.H. Dec. 29, 2015), on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. The case involved a former Citizens Bank employee who was terminated from Citizens Bank after failing to return to work after a leave of absence for her medical conditions—post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), depression, and anxiety. Ms. Posteraro brought claims for disability discrimination (for failure to provide a reasonable accommodation); sexual and disability harassment causing a hostile work environment (including allegations that her tenure at Citizens Bank was "rife with gender and disability-based harassment"); intentional infliction of emotional distress; wrongful discharge; retaliation (after she opposed the alleged sexual harassment and pursued accommodations for her disabilities); and constructive discharge.
The court granted judgment in Defendants' favor on all but two counts (those alleging retaliation as a result of Plaintiffs' sexual harassment complaints). As to the ADA failure to accommodate claim, Posteraro had alleged that she requested to "be provided with a 'peaceful calm environment where I didn't feel threatened for my safety emotionally or physically,'" as well as asked to be moved to a nonretail branch position that did not involve interactions with the public. The court noted that the parties agreed there was no nonretail positions available and that Citizens Bank was "not required to eliminate essential functions of Posteraro's job, such as public interaction, as an accommodation . . . . Nor was it required to accede to Posteraro's counsel's request that a new position be created for her." Further, with regard to the request for a "peaceful calm environment," the court found that the request was "too vague to be considered a request under the ADA or state law," and it was unclear whether Posteraro ever communicated this request to Citizens.
This case serves as a helpful reminder earlier in the new year that employers neither have a duty to create a new position for an employee as a reasonable accommodation, nor should they eliminate essential functions of a position as an accommodation. If you are dealing with a difficult ADA accommodation issue, give a member of Verrill Dana's Labor & Employment practice group a call to discuss best practices.