According to a recent Americans with Disabilities Act case from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, a failure to accommodate an employee’s disability may result in a constructive discharge and expose the employer to the same kind of liability it would face had it terminated an employee because of a disability.

In Talley v. Family Dollar Stores of Ohio Inc., Talley, a former store cashier with severe arthritis, could not stand more than 15 minutes without extreme pain.  She requested a stool to sit on while working, but the employer refused the request because employees complained of "favoritism" and wanted stools of their own.  After the employer refused her request for an accommodation, Talley quit her job and sued for disability discrimination under the ADA, claiming that her employer’s refusal to accommodate her forced her to quit.

The Sixth Circuit agreed that Talley proved a claim for constructive discharge–in other words, the employer made her working conditions so intolerable that a reasonable person would feel compelled to resign.  If Talley proves her case to a jury, her former employer can be liable for several years’ of backpay damages, as well as attorney’s fees and possibly even punitive damages.  

This case underscores employers’ obligation to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled employees.  While most anti-discrimination laws do not allow "favoritism," the ADA is different:  an employer does have an obligation to provide disabled employees with accommodations (such as giving a disabled cashier a stool) that non-disabled employees do not receive.  Perceived favoritism is simply not a defense.  For technical assistance in complying with the ADA, check out the U.S. Department of Justice’s ADA Page