An employer may, but is not required to, create a new job or create a light-duty version of the disabled employee’s current job in order to provide a reasonable accommodation

An employer may, but is not required to, create a new job or create a light-duty version of the disabled employee’s current job in order to provide a reasonable accommodation
Jacobsen v New York City Health & Hosps. Corp., 2012 NY Slip Op 05478, Appellate Division, First Department

William Jacobsen alleged that he was wrongfully terminated from his position because of a disability in violation of the New York State Human Rights Law (Executive Law §296[1][a]) and the New York City Human Rights Law (Administrative Code of City of NY §8-107[1][a]).

Diagnosed with pneumoconiosis, an occupational lung disease, Jacobsen requested, and was granted, a medical leave of absence. Subsequently Jacobsen’s physician cleared to return to work on January 3, 2006, but directed that he not be present at any construction site. HHC sent a letter to Jacobsen’s physician setting out his duties and explaining that he is required to spend approximately 75% of his time in the field monitoring construction sites. Jacobsen’s union representative then asked HHC to let him return to work with an accommodation of being assigned work "that he is capable of doing in the office." In addition, Jacobsen provided another letter from his physician stating that he was medically cleared to work in the field.

Ultimately HHC told Jacobsen that he would be placed on unpaid medical leave for six months and his job would be left open in the event that his condition improved, indicating that his union’s proposed accommodation, relocation to the central office, was not feasible because the duties of his position required that he visit facilities that have ongoing construction. Jacobsen’s physician then advised HHC that Jacobsen “could never be medically cleared to perform the essential functions of his current duties because he should not be further exposed to any type of environmental dust.”

HHC terminated Jacobsen at the end of his six-month leave of absence, whereupon he commenced an action for wrongful termination because of a disability.

To state a prima facie case of employment discrimination due to a disability, a plaintiff must demonstrate that he or she suffered from a disability and that the disability caused the behavior for which he or she was terminated (Matter of McEniry v Landi, 84 NY2d 554). Once a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the employer, here HHC, to show that the disability prevented Jacobsen "from performing the duties of the job in a reasonable manner or that the employee's termination was motivated by a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason".

The Appellate Division concluded that HHC met its burden by establishing that at the time of termination, Jacobsen was unable to perform the duties of his job because of his lung condition and that no reasonable accommodation was available.

Under the Executive Law §292 [21-e], a "reasonable accommodation" is defined as "actions taken by [an] employer which permit an employee . . . with a disability to perform in a reasonable manner the activities involved in the job or occupation sought or held . . . provided, however, that such actions do not impose an undue hardship on the business." Similarly, the City's Human Rights Law provides that an employer "shall make reasonable accommodation to enable a person with a disability to satisfy the essential requisites of a job" (Administrative Code §8-107 [15][a]).

However, said the court, "an employer is not required to find another job for the employee, create a new job, or create a light-duty version of the current job."

Under both New York's Executive Law and the City's Administrative Code, an employer is required to perform an individual assessment of an employee prior to terminating him or her. In this instance it was only after Jacobsen's doctor and Jacobsen himself confirmed that he could no longer work at construction sites that HHC terminated him from his position.

Accordingly, the Appellate Division affirmed Supreme Court’s order granting HHC’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint.

The decision is posted on the Internet at: