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Eleventh Circuit Holds Adverse Employment Action Is Required in ADA Failure-to-Accommodate Claim
Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “[n]o covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.” Circuits are split as to whether the failure to provide a reasonable accommodation to a qualified individual is a violation of the ADA on its own, or whether the plaintiff must also show that the failure to accommodate adversely affected the qualified individual’s terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.

On May 24, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit found the latter. A 3–0 court held that an employer violates the ADA when it (a) fails to provide a reasonable accommodation to a qualified employee, and (b) the employee suffers an adverse action because of the failure to accommodate.

Quick Hits

  • A plaintiff’s claim that an employer’s failure to provide a reasonable accommodation is insufficient on its own to show a violation of the ADA, the Eleventh Circuit held.
  • The Supreme Court denied certiorari in 2021 in a case that could have resolved the circuit split on the issue of whether a plaintiff must, in addition to demonstrating an employer failed to provide a reasonable accommodation, also show that the denial adversely impacted the employee’s terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.

Background

Teddy Beasley, the plaintiff in Beasley v. O’Reilly Auto Parts, was a hearing-impaired individual working for the defendant, O’Reilly Auto Parts. Beasley alleged that his employer had not provided an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter for shift meetings and other work activities. Beasley brought suit in the Southern District of Alabama, claiming that the employer had violated Title I of the ADA. The employer filed a motion for summary judgment. The district court granted the motion on the ground that Beasley had not established a genuine dispute of material fact that he had suffered an adverse employment action as a result of the employer’s alleged failure to provide an ASL interpreter when requested.

While the Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling, it nonetheless agreed with the district court that for a plaintiff “to succeed on a failure-to-accommodate claim[,] a plaintiff must show that he suffered an adverse employment action.” Thus, the court noted that a plaintiff must demonstrate that a defendant’s failure to accommodate “negatively impact[ed] the employee’s hiring, advancement, discharge, compensation, training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of his employment.”

Key Takeaways

The Eleventh Circuit’s ruling is significant because it recognizes an additional element of a failure-to-accommodate claim. That is, a qualified employee must show not only that his or her employer failed to provide a reasonable accommodation, but that the denial also adversely impacted the employee’s terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. In effect, the decision likely increases a plaintiff’s burden in an ADA claim, so that it is less likely a claim will survive if the plaintiff alleges only that an employer denied or failed to provide a reasonable accommodation, unless the plaintiff also shows that he or she suffered some sort of adverse employment action as a result.

Of course, the decision is binding only in the Eleventh Circuit; other circuits are currently split on this issue. In 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States was presented the opportunity to resolve this circuit split in the Tenth Circuit case, Exby-Stolley v. Board of County Commissioners, Weld County, Colorado. A divided Tenth Circuit had ruled that an adverse action was not required in a failure-to-accommodate claim. Circuit Judge Carolyn McHugh authored the dissent in Exby-Stolley, describing the current landscape regarding the issue across circuits as “muddy.” Despite any “muddiness,” the Supreme Court denied certiorari. As Beasley v. O’Reilly Auto Parts demonstrates, the requirement of an adverse employment action in a failure-to-accommodate claim remains inconsistent across the circuits.

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