Before proceeding with today’s blog entry, I do want to express my wishes that everyone be safe with the terribly cold weather around the country today. My native city of Chicago is brutally cold today. Be safe and stay warm!

Previously, I have talked about internship and externship sites being subject to the ADA here, and I have also talked about (in this blog entry and in this blog entry), just where does an independent contractor turn when faced with disability discrimination. Today’s blog entry talks about how the internship and externship site is at risk for liability when they don’t accommodate a person with a disability that is interning or externing at their site. The case is Christ v. University of Findlay et. al. from the Southern District of Ohio decided August 31, 2018. As usual, the blog entry is divided into categories and they are: facts; court’s reasoning denying Ultimate’s motion to dismiss title III claim but dismissing Ohio Civil Rights Act claim; and takeaways. The blog entry is pretty short. So, you are probably going to want to read the whole thing.

I

Facts

Plaintiff enrolled at the University to obtain a Master of Arts degree in occupational therapy. In October 2013, plaintiff informed the University’s disability office of her disability which included generalized social anxiety disorder, ADHD, and auditory processing disorder. She disclosed her disability to the chair of occupational therapy and to the instructor of occupational therapy and academic fieldwork coordinator. The University then granted her extra time learning accommodations to complete assessments. By November 2015, plaintiff had completed the degree’s classroom requirement successfully. The University’s internal policies mandate that a student complete all field placements within two years of their classroom component. Further, any student who failed two level II placements is removed from the program. Following the completion of her first level II placement, plaintiff began to encounter difficulty with her next two field assignments. She confided in the instructor of occupational therapy and academic fieldwork coordinator that her field assignment was aggravating her anxiety by manifesting itself in the form of hand tremors. The fieldwork coordinator counseled the plaintiff NOT to discuss her anxiety with her fellow placement employees. Plaintiff Ultimately failed that placement. Six months later, the University assigned the plaintiff to another level II field placement with the defendant Ultimate Rehab. Allegedly, the fieldwork coordinator provided Ultimate Rehab a copy of plaintiff’s accommodations. Further, plaintiff also disclosed her accommodations to her assigned coworker at Ultimate and was told allegedly that Ultimate would have no problem integrating the accommodations into her experience. However, that proved not to be the case. Plaintiff alleged that Ultimate failed to ensure that the accommodations were implemented. As a result, Ultimate informed the plaintiff that she could no longer meet with patients and was being dismissed due to her alleged failure to follow safety protocols. That triggered a failure of a second level II field placement work and caused the plaintiff to be dismissed from the program. Plaintiff sued under both title III of the ADA and under the Ohio Civil Rights Act for employment discrimination. Ultimate filed a motion to dismiss.

II

Court’s Reasoning Denying Ultimate’s Motion to Dismiss’s Motion to Dismiss Title III Claim but Dismissing Ohio Civil Rights Act Claim

  1. Title III at 42 U.S.C. §12182(a) contains a general rule prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person owning, leasing, or operating a place of public accommodation. That is a general rule that governs the entirety of 42 U.S.C. §12182.
  2. It is true that 42 U.S.C. §12182(b) has rules of construction and the first three of those rules of construction are limited to clients or customers of a place of public accommodation entering into contractual, licensing, or other arrangements. However, none of that affects the general rule.
  3. The court noted, in the case we discussed in this blog entry, that Mentkowitz held both the language of title III and its legislative history clearly demonstrate that the phrase “clients or customers,” is not a general circumspection of title III and does not serve to limit the broad rule announced in 42 U.S.C. §12182(a). That court also noted that the general rule in title III does not speak in terms of guests, patrons, clients, customers, or members of the public. Rather, it broadly uses the word, “individual.” District Courts in Ohio have agreed with this interpretation.
  4. With respect to the Ohio Civil Rights Act employment claim, the court dismisses it because the plaintiff is unable to establish that an employment relationship existed.

III

Takeaways

  1. While we have previously discussed internship and externship sites being subject to the ADA, this case is a much more direct situation with regards to someone interning externing at a particular site.
  2. If you are a business allowing interns and extern to work for you for University credits at your business, you definitely need to be thinking about accommodating any extern or intern with a disability. While it is entirely possible that title I of the ADA would not be involved, title III, as this case makes clear, very well is. I would suggest working with the University to make sure that you understand just what the disabilities are and how the University is accommodating them. Also, engage in the interactive process with the individual intern or extern. In many ways, none of this should be much different than what an employer would have to do under title I of the ADA. That said, having been a paralegal coordinator for an ABA approved program, I can tell you that it was not unusual for an internship or an externship site to have less than 15 employees. Accordingly, unless an equivalent state law is involved, that particular site may not be as up to speed on the obligations under title I of the ADA as they could be. So, those places in particular, need to be very much aware that even though they have less than 15 employees, they are still dealing with title III obligations, which would have a very similar effect on the intern or extern as if they were subject to title I of the ADA.
  3. As mentioned in this blog entry, the University may have its own liability under the ADA when an internship or externship site goes wrong for a person with a disability.
  4. Training, training, training (I do a lot of this:-)).
  5. I see this frequently where a student with a disability does well in the classroom section of graduate training, but things break down at the clinical stage. The ADA obligations continue through the clinical stage. The interactive process is critical. What makes things even more complicated is that sometimes, particularly in the medical field, getting through the University curriculum is dependent upon tests, and the University has no control over whether that independent entity makes the accommodation they are supposed to make under the ADA.
  6. Know your essential eligibility requirements. See this blog entry.
  7. It was not the best choice for the fieldwork coordinator to counsel that a disability not be disclosed to the internship site. Early disclosure is always best. I wonder if this will not be an independent basis of liability for an ADA violation against the University.

One Response to Title III of the ADA Applies to Internship and Externship Sites

One thing that I should probably have added to the piece is that the ADA prohibits a governmental entity or a place of public accommodation from contracting with another entity that discriminates on the basis of disability. Of course, if the internship site was a public entity, then it is possible that §504 might come into play. There also could be independent title II liability for the site.

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