CLOSE X
RSS Feed LinkedIn Instagram Twitter Facebook
Search:
FMG Law Blog Line

Posts Tagged ‘Americans with Disabilities Act’

Current Legal Issues Facing Supportive Housing Facilities

Posted on: December 2nd, 2019

By: Joseph Colette

FMG Partner H. Joseph Colette discussed “Current Legal Issues Facing Supportive Housing Facilities” at the Georgia Supportive Housing Association’s 9th Annual Supportive Housing Conference, held at the State Bar of Georgia from November 18th to 19th.

Supportive housing provides at-risk populations, including individuals with physical, mental, or developmental disabilities, veterans, and reentry individuals, with stable housing with needed support services, such as case management, housing, and reasonable accommodations, peer supports, education, training, and other services. Mr. Colette originally assisted the Georgia Supportive Housing Association (“GSHA”) in obtaining its non-profit 501(c)(3) status. The GSHA is a membership network of non-profit housing developers, service providers, statewide agencies and organizations, corporations, associations and individuals with a shared goal: strengthening housing resources in the State of Georgia. The vision of the GSHA is to have a Georgia where individuals with disabilities can choose the housing and supports they need to thrive, obtaining and ensuring their stability, autonomy, and dignity.

Mr. Colette’s presentation included a historical overview of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C. Mr. Colette also discussed the evolution of these civil rights laws and insight into the variations in federal and statewide implementation and enforcement activity on the 20th anniversary of the Olmstead decision.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 (“FHA”), which applies to landlords, realtors, mortgage brokers, insurance agents, zoning codes, etc., prohibits the discrimination in the rental, sale, advertising, design, insuring, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on membership in protected classes. The protected classes originally included: race, color, financial status, religion, sex/gender, and national origin. The FHA was amended in 1988 (see the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (“FHAA”)) to include disability as a protected seventh protected class.

Reasonable accommodations and modifications were also newly-established legal requirements of the FHA. A landlord could not unreasonably refuse to provide a reasonable accommodation of a rule, policy, or procedure to address the needs of a person with a disability, and could not unreasonably deny permission to a tenant to make a modification of the premises to address the needs of a person with a disability. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which imposes greater obligations than the FHA,  prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in any program or activity that receives federal funds. The language of both the later enacted FHAA and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) are rooted in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 also requires recipients to make reasonable accommodations, including structural changes, to enable access to housing for people with disabilities.

The ADA provides federal civil rights protections to individuals with physical and mental disabilities and guarantees them equal opportunity in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. The integration of individuals with disabilities into the mainstream of society is fundamental to the purposes of the ADA. Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination by public entities in services, programs, and activities on the basis of disability, and applies to all types of state agencies, counties, municipalities and cities, and executive, legislative, and judicial branches of state and local government.

The passage of the ADA resulted in a myriad of discrimination lawsuits, many of which went before the U.S. Supreme Court. For resolution of these cases, the Court was required to interpret the broad anti-discrimination provisions of the ADA in a variety of specific contexts while at the same time balancing such questions as states’ rights and the definition of disability. One such case was Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999).

In Olmstead, the Supreme Court determined that individuals with disabilities had the right to receive supports in the community rather than in institutions when three conditions were met:

1) The treating medical professionals determined that a community setting was appropriate;

2) The person with a disability did not object to living in the community; and

3) The provision of services in the community was a reasonable accommodation.

All states were required to take steps necessary to serve individuals with disabilities in the community when the aforementioned conditions were met.

Virtually all of the cases after Olmstead involved attempts to place people from individual institutions into the community. The major legal controversies raised by these cases involved interpretation of what is referred to as the “fundamental alteration” defense. A public entity’s obligation under Olmstead to provide services in the most integrated setting is not unlimited.  Therefore, a public entity may be excused in instances where it can prove that the requested modification would result in a “fundamental alteration” of the public entity’s service system.  A fundamental alteration requires the public entity to prove “that, in the allocation of available resources, immediate relief for plaintiffs would be inequitable, given the responsibility the State [or local government] has taken for the care and treatment of a large and diverse population of persons with…disabilities.” See Olmstead, 527 U.S. at 604.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Joseph Colette at [email protected].

As Commerce Moves Online, the Americans with Disabilities Act Follows

Posted on: February 11th, 2019

By: Natalie Pulley

Does the Americans with Disabilities Act, requiring accessibility in public accommodations, apply to a business’ online presence? The Eleventh Circuit has weighed in on the issue, finding in Dennis Haynes v. Dunkin’ Donuts LLC that the ADA applies online.

In Dennis Haynes, the plaintiff is blind and relies on screen reading software. He attempted to go on the website for Dunkin’ Donuts but the website was not compatible with his, or any, screen reading software. The plaintiff sued Dunkin’ Donuts, LLC, claiming that it violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act by not maintaining a website compatible with screen reading software. He alleged that the inaccessibility of Dunkin’ Donuts’ website has denied blind people the ability to enjoy the goods, services, privileges, and advantages of Dunkin’ Donuts shops.

The Eleventh Circuit agreed with his position and found that a website must comply with ADA requirements. The court found that a website is a service that facilitates the use of brick and mortar shops, which are places of public accommodation. Further, the court found that the ADA is clear that whatever goods and services the business offers as part of its public accommodation, it cannot discriminate against people on the basis of a disability, even if those goods and services are intangible. This opinion sides with a federal court ruling from Florida, which ruled that a supermarket chain could be liable under the statute for operating an inaccessible site.

While there is no blanket requirement of any specific auxiliary aides on corporate websites, the proliferation of website lawsuits presents a risk of liability. Corporations should take proactive steps to ensure that their websites are accessible to those with hearing, muscular, and visual impairments.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Natalie Pulley at [email protected].

Haynes v. Dunkin’ Donuts, Ltd. Liab. Co., 741 F. App’x 752 (11th Cir. 2018)
Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., 257 F. Supp. 3d 1340 (S.D. Fla. 2017)

 

 

 

Is Your Attendance Policy Too Rigid?

Posted on: September 6th, 2018

By: Christopher Curci

Employers need to be mindful of both the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) and Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) when considering how to enforce their attendance policies.  When an employee requests time off from work to attend to a medical condition, most employers will consider the request as one for medical leave under the FMLA.  However, what happens if the employee has exhausted his or her FMLA leave or is not eligible for FMLA leave.  Many employers will simply conclude that the employee is not eligible for FMLA leave without considering whether the ADA requires the leave as a reasonable accommodation.  This common mistake often results in a violation of the ADA.

For example, in August 2018 the EEOC filed a lawsuit against Stanley Black & Decker for terminating an employee who took leave for medical treatments related to her cancer.  To qualify for FMLA leave, the employee must have been employed with the company for at least one year and worked at least 1,250 hours during the prior year.  In the Stanley Black & Decker lawsuit, the employee requesting leave had been employed for less than one year.  When she asked Human Resources what her options were to receive her medical treatments, she was correctly told that she was not eligible for FMLA leave.  However, Human Resources did not consider whether the requested leave was a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

What happened?  The employee exceeded her allowed vacation days to undergo her cancer treatments and Stanley Black & Decker terminated her employment for excessive absenteeism in violation of its attendance policy.  Then what happened?  The EEOC filed a lawsuit against Stanley Black & Decker for violating the ADA.

Per the EEOC, Stanley Black & Decker’s attendance policy “does not provide exceptions for people who need leave as an accommodation to their disability.”  EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence said, “Employers can run afoul of the ADA if they have a rigid attendance policy that penalizes employees taking leave as a reasonable accommodation for their disabilities.”

Inflexible leave policies that discriminate against individuals with disabilities is one of six national priorities identified by the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan.  The take away: when an employee requests leave due to a medical condition, employers must consider both the FMLA’s leave requirements and the ADA’s reasonable accommodation requirements.

Christopher Curci practices Labor & Employment law in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and is a member of  Freeman Mathis & Gary’s Labor and Employment Law National Practice Section.  He represents employers in litigation and advises clients on all aspects of employment law.  He can be reached at [email protected].

 

Discrimination Suit Over Service Dog Revived By Third Circuit

Posted on: August 23rd, 2018

By: Barry Brownstein

The Third Circuit has revived a lawsuit by the parents of an epileptic girl who claim a Pennsylvania school discriminated against her by barring her service dog.

In 2014, Traci and Joseph Berardelli sued the Allied Services Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, which operates a school with a specialized program for dyslexic students, after it barred their daughter from bringing her service dog to school to help alert staff to her epileptic seizures. The school claimed the dog would be a distraction, and the Berardelli’s daughter missed many school days when her seizures were bad. When the school finally permitted the service dog to accompany her, the reprieve did not last long, as school officials required that it wear a “special therapeutic shirt designed to decrease allergens” that caused the dog to overheat. The parents’ lawsuit alleged that the school violated the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and a Pennsylvania discrimination law.

The United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania dismissed the ADA and state discrimination claims, ruling that they improperly sought damages.

On appeal, Traci and Joseph Berardelli argued that “reasonable modifications” required under the ADA are substantively the same as “reasonable accommodations” provided for in the Rehabilitation Act, and thus, service animal requirements in the ADA apply to both laws.

The Third Circuit ruled that the district court erred in its instructions to the jury about the Rehabilitation Act claim and improperly disallowed testimony about ADA service animal regulations because that was not the law being considered.  In its enforcement of the ADA, the Department of Justice has ruled that service animals are reasonably permitted to be used by disabled persons in public places as long as they are housebroken, not out of control, and pose no risk to the public.

The Third Circuit ruled that the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and its progeny the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 must be interpreted the same way with respect to reasonable accommodations that must be provided to those with disabilities, including the use of service animals. Thus, under the Rehabilitation Act just as under the ADA, a covered actor ordinarily must accommodate the use of service animals by individuals with disabilities. The Third Circuit also overturned dismissal of the claim made under Pennsylvania discrimination law, ruling that the district court erred because that law does permit damages as a remedy.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Barry Brownstein at [email protected].

To FMLA or not FMLA, that is the question…

Posted on: November 10th, 2017

By: Christopher M. Curci

FMLA and ADA leave questions are some of the most frequent that we receive from our clients.  Deciding whether an employee’s absence should be designated as FMLA leave, or granted as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA, is a legal land mine.

Fortunately, at least one federal judge in Pennsylvania recognizes the employer’s dilemma.  In Bertig v. Julia Ribaudo Healthcare Group, LLC, the employee suffered from bladder cancer and asthma, which are disabilities under the law.  She requested and was granted one month of FMLA leave in May of 2012.  She returned to work in June of 2012 as planned.

Beginning in April of 2013 and continuing through April of 2014, the employee called out sick thirteen times for various reasons, such as foot pain and a sore throat. She was terminated for violating the company’s attendance policy.  The employee filed suit alleging that she informed management that her absences were related to her disabilities, therefore her absences should have been designated as FMLA leave.  She also brought a claim for failure to accommodate her disabilities under the ADA.

The Court ruled in favor of the employer. The employee admitted during her deposition that ten of her thirteen absences were unrelated to her disabilities.  Because her absences were not disability-related, her termination did not violate the FMLA or ADA.  But, the most important takeaway in this case is the Court’s implication that the employer was not obligated to make further inquiry as to whether those absences were related to the employee’s disability before it made the decision to terminate her employment.  That burden fell on the employee given the totality of facts here.

While this decision is very fact specific, it is nonetheless a win for employers who struggle with FMLA/ADA leave requests. Just because an employee took FMLA leave in the past for a disability does not necessarily mean that the employer has a burden to inquire whether subsequent absences are related to that disability – especially when the absences occurred ten months later and the employee gives non-disability related reasons for the absences.

All employers should have written FMLA and ADA policies advising employees of their FMLA and ADA rights, and should document reasons for employee absences. Christopher M. Curci represents employers in litigation and advises his clients on all aspects of employment law.  If you need help with this or any other employment issues, he can be reached at [email protected].