Before getting started on the blog entry of the week, I want to congratulate the United States Soccer Men’s National Team on a valiant effort at the World Cup. Hopefully, a harbinger of good things to come. Also, things in Georgia are a bit bonkers at the moment. UGA is a number one seed in the college football playoffs, and we have an election on December 6, 2022, that just about everybody in the country is following. My family voted early. As for UGA, it is hard to explain to people that do not live in Georgia the impact that UGA has on the mindset of those in Georgia regardless of whether you attended there or not. If you do have a team in the college football playoffs, I wish you luck. For the first time in quite a while, there are two Big Ten teams in it.
Today’s blog entry is going to be a short one. I also expect within the next couple of weeks to do my annual most popular blog entries of the year report. The case of the day is Piotrowski v. Signature Collision Centers decided by the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on October 8, 2021, here. It talks about what does interference mean with respect to a person who sues for interfering with his or her or their’s protected rights. We previously blogged on how to prove up an interference claim, here, but that case didn’t really answer what is an interference claim in terms of its definition. This blog entry is really short. Even so, it is still divided into categories and they are: facts; court’s reasoning that plaintiff’s ADA interference claim can go forward; and thoughts/takeaways. The blog entry is so short that I can’t imagine not reading all of it.
In the first days of Covid-19 related shutdowns, plaintiff emailed his employer to explain that he had diabetes, was a person with a disability, and to request and propose accommodations. The employer kept moving the goalposts: 1) informed plaintiff he could use sick days or paid time off to cover absences; 2) after plaintiff reiterated his initial request and included multiple links to government issued articles addressing reasonable accommodations under the ADA in preparation for the pandemic, which included working from home and telework, telling the plaintiff that he had to be physically present to perform the essential functions of his position and that any additional days would be unpaid if not already covered by sick leave; 3) after plaintiff submitted notes from his endocrinologist stating that he was immunosuppressed due to his diabetes and to remain off for two weeks (plaintiff sent subsequent emails as well), the employer told him that his Dr.’s note did not mention a reasonable accommodation for disability; 4) after providing the employer with the second Dr.’s note, the employer told him that they would not provide him with any additional sick leave because the second Dr.’s note did not advise him to quarantine; and 5) never providing the plaintiff with exactly what the employer needed from his doctor with respect to a note even though his employer said they would get that language to him.
On April 1, 2020, plaintiff received an email from his employer asserting that he had abandoned his position because he failed to send a follow-up email and/or submit a third Dr.’s note to his employer. He then filed a lawsuit a little over a year later.
Court’s Reasoning That Plaintiff’s ADA Interference Claim Can Go Forward
- The Third Circuit has not set forth the elements of an ADA interference claim. However, the Seventh and Ninth Circuits have adopted the test for anti-interference claims under the Fair Housing Act.
- Citing to a case that we discussed here, the Third Circuit has held that under the Fair Housing Act, courts should give the word “interference,” its dictionary definition, which is the act of meddling in or hampering an activity or process.
- The employer moving the goalposts by constantly asking for more information constitutes conduct meddling in or hampering plaintiff’s ability to invoke his rights under the ADA.
- This is not the only case saying that interference refers to meddling or hampering. See this case for example: Equal Emp’t Opportunity Comm’n v. Geisinger Health, Civil Action 21-4294-KSM (E.D. Pa. Oct. 17, 2022).
- Common ways that I see interference claims would be a supervisor discouraging a person from requesting reasonable accommodations. In the higher education world, a professor putting obstacles in place with respect to what has been worked out between disability services and the student with a disability.
- Meddling or hampering is not a high standard.
- For proving up such a claim, Frakes, is an excellent place to start.
- Be wary of making excessive documentation requests. We discussed one such case here. Also, as this blog entry makes clear, asking for documentation when it isn’t necessary to do so may set the employer up for an interference claim.
- I really like the Samper case out of the Ninth Circuit, which we discussed here, for figuring out when telework or remote work is something that should be allowed under the ADA. That said, I do think the Samper factors need to be revised slightly in light of what we have learned over the pandemic. More specifically, those factors as amended for the Covid-19 pandemic lessons would be: 1) the employee must work in person as part of the team; 2) the job requires in person face-to-face interaction with clients and other employees; or 3) the job requires the employee to work with items and equipment that are on site. Adding the in person requirements to criteria ##1-2, is excellent preventive law in light of the pandemic.
- As we discussed here, unreasonable delay in granting an accommodation is actionable.