By Deputy Assistant Attorney General Eve Hill for the Civil Rights Division
Too often, qualified Americans with disabilities face barriers to employment, preventing them from participating as full members of our society. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination by employers on the basis of disability, and requires reasonable accommodations in the workplace when necessary to enable employees with disabilities to do their jobs. Often, a reasonable accommodation is easy and inexpensive for the employer and makes all the difference for a person with a disability to be able to perform his or her job. However, managers often remain unaware of their obligation to accommodate workers with disabilities under the ADA. The story of what happened to Mr. D. illustrates how gaps in ADA training can result in significant harm.
Mr D., a former Parks Maintenance Crew Leader with the city of North Las Vegas, knows how important a reasonable accommodation is to working. Mr. D. has monocular vision, meaning one of his eyes has limited vision. Even though his employer could and did reasonably accommodate him for years, Mr. D.’s new supervisor unreasonably withdrew the long-time accommodation Mr. D. needed to do his job and, as a result, he was forced out of work.
For 29 years, Mr. D. worked for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. Over the years, Mr. D. was promoted from a maintenance crew member to a crew leader. Two years after he was promoted to crew leader, while the actual duties of his job did not change at all, the licensing requirements for the job were changed to include a commercial driver’s license. While Mr. D. had a regular driver’s license, he could not get a commercial driver’s license because of his monocular vision. Mr. D. went to his doctor and got documentation to give to his employer showing that he could not get a commercial driver’s license because of his vision disability. At his job, there was only one year-round vehicle and one seasonal vehicle that required a commercial driver’s license. Crew leaders did not usually drive these vehicles. Because it was not necessary that Mr. D. drive any vehicles that required a commercial driver’s license, his employer granted him an exemption from the requirement. Eight years later, a new manager took over and told Mr. D. that he had to get a commercial driver’s license or face disciplinary action. Mr. D. told the new manager about his accommodation because of his visual disability, and even got a new letter from his doctor to give to the manager. In response, Mr. D. alleged, the manager again told Mr. D. he had to get the commercial driver’s license or face disciplinary action. Fearing that he would lose his job and his pension, which he would be entitled to after only one more year of working for the city, Mr. D. felt forced to take an early retirement and paid out of pocket into the retirement system for his last year.
After being advised that they would be sued by the Department of Justice, the city of North Las Vegas agreed to pay Mr. D. back the money he paid into the retirement system and compensate him for his emotional distress. The city also agreed to train its supervisors so they understand their obligations under the ADA to help ensure that all employees with disabilities will be treated fairly. The city’s responsiveness and cooperation greatly aided speedy resolution of the case.
The Department of Justice’s settlement agreements often require employers and other covered entities to train their staff on ADA requirements. Employer training of supervisors and managers on how to accommodate workers with disabilities under the ADA is a key to success and such training ensures employees with disabilities can do their jobs and contribute to their workplaces. With accommodations at work when needed, hard working Americans like Mr. D. contribute as valued members of the workforce, and both justice and economic advancement are served.