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Transfer to New Job Location for Medical Reasons May be a Reasonable Accommodation Under ADA

By on December 3, 2012 in ADA with 0 Comments

Clarice Sanchez worked for the US Forest Service in Lufkin, Texas.  She was injured at work falling down a flight of stairs, causing a homonymous hemianopsia — a condition that limited her to 50 percent of the total visual field in each eye.  She was unable to see objects to the left line of center when focusing ahead.

Sanchez returned to work after seven weeks of recovery.  Thereafter she requested a transfer to the Albuquerque, New Mexico office because there were no specialized doctors in Lufkin who could help her adjust to her injury.  She also had family and friends in Albuquerque who would assist her in dealing with her injury.  In addition, she would have access to public transportation in Albuquerque.

Sanchez struggled with reading as a result of her injury.  She also could not tolerate bright lighting.  She encountered eye strain when she worked on the computer or read for more than 45 minutes.

She was given a 120-day detail in Albuquerque and was able to see a specialist there.  However, Forest Service employees in New Mexico informed the Deputy Regional Forester that Sanchez’s job performance was unsatisfactory and recommended that she not remain in Albuquerque.

Sanchez returned to the Lufkin,Texas office but alleged that her supervisor and co-employees mocked her and said she was “not right in the head.”  As a result, Sanchez took a pay cut to accept an accounting technician position with the Forest Service in Albuquerque. She also filed a law suit under the Rehabilitation Act alleging that she was subjected to a hostile work environment as a result of her disability.  The Rehabilitation Act uses the same legal standards as the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The District Court held that Sanchez failed to prove a covered disability.  She appealed that determination and also contended that the Service should have transferred her to Albuquerque.  The Court of Appeals reversed on the disability issue:  “[W]e conclude that summary judgment was inappropriate. Sanche zprovided a great deal of evidence attesting to the manner in which homonymous hemianopsia limited her ability to see compared to the average person.”  The Court opined that she was challenged in reading and performing basic financial math.  She had to rely on her daughter to fly from Albuquerque to Lufkin every few weeks to help her shop and do other tasks.  The Court observed that plaintiff proved an impairment in seeing, which is a major life activity.

On the transfer issue, the Court said that “a reasonable accommodation may include reassignment to a vacant position if the employee is qualified for the job and it does not impose an undue hardship on the employer.” (citations omitted).  The Court held as follows:  “Considering the case law from this court and others, we conclude that a transfer accommodation for medical care or treatment is not per se unreasonable, even if an employee is able to perform the essential functions of her job without it.”
This case can be found at Sanchez v. Tom Vilsack, Secretary, United States Department of Agriculture, 695 F.3d 1174, (10th Circuit 2012).

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About the Author

About the Author:

John H. Geaney, a shareholder and co-chair of Capehart Scatchard's Workers' Compensation department, began an email newsletter entitled Currents in Workers’ Compensation, ADA and FMLA in 2001 in order to keep clients and readers informed on leading developments in these three areas of law. Since that time he has written over 500 newsletter updates.

Mr. Geaney is the author of Geaney’s New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Manual for Practitioners, Adjusters & Employers. The manual is distributed by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE). He also authored an ADA and FMLA manual as distributed by NJICLE. If you are interested in purchasing the manual, please contact NJICLE at 732-214-8500 or visit their website at www.njicle.com.

Mr. Geaney represents employers in the defense of workers’ compensation, ADA and FMLA matters. He is a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of the American Bar Association and is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a workers’ compensation law attorney. He is one of two firm representatives to the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. He has served on the Executive Committee of Capehart Scatchard for over ten (10) years.

A graduate of Holy Cross College summa cum laude, Mr. Geaney obtained his law degree from Boston College Law School. He has been named a “Super Lawyer” by his peers and Law and Politics. He serves as Vice President of the Friends of MEND, the fundraising arm of a local charitable organization devoted to promoting affordable housing.

Capehart Scatchard is a full service law firm with offices in Mt. Laurel and Trenton, New Jersey. The firm represents employers and businesses in a wide variety of areas, including workers’ compensation, civil litigation, labor, environmental, business, estates and governmental affairs.

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