I’ve returned from vacation today with hundreds of e-mails to dig through and about 3000 posts in various RSS feeds.
But one e-mail I received relating to the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision earlier this month in Curry v. Allan S. Goodman, bears some immediate discussion. The comments are from Attorney Richard Hayber, the attorney representing the employee in that matter. He has authorized me to re-publish his comments in part here, which I’m pleased to do so and I thank Richard for taking the time to comment.
[Y]our coverage of this case has failed to point out the most disturbing fact of the case. The employer had a policy of only permitting injured workers to return to work if they had been cleared to "full duty." When asked at a deposition how the company applied this policy, it stated that it would not return an employee to work even if the only restriction he had was to take a 60 second break during the day to stretch his back!!! The Supreme Court held this policy, which foreclosed an individualized analysis of each disabled worker’s request for accommodation, to be illegal.
I greatly appreciate Richard’s comments and as I’ve suggested before, readers should read the lengthy decision to get a full appreciation for the contested facts. Because the case is at the summary judgment stage, however, many of the facts remain disputed.
In my defense, reading the decision again, I do not see the deposition referenced, nor do I believe that the Court placed a particular emphasis on the "full duty" clearance requirement. In fairness to Richard, however, the Connecticut Supreme Court, in footnote 23, did say that the Court’s newly imposed "interactive process" requirement creates a parallel requirement that assessments of a disability be done on an individualized basis.
A policy—whether express or by application—that eliminates the individualized assessment of each disabled employee for purposes of reasonable accommodations is for all the reasons articulated in this opinion necessarily illegal. … Whether the plaintiff ultimately will prevail after an individualized assessment will depend on the interactive reasonable accommodation process.
Ultimately, I agree with Richard that with the Connecticut Supreme Court’s imposition of an interactive process for small employers will require those employers to conduct an individualized assessment of an employee’s capabilities and abilities. Because each case is unique and may also have some relationship to workers compensation injuries, employers may want to seek legal assistance in these types of determinations, at least until Connecticut law becomes more settled.
Richard also notes that "most superior court judges had already interpreted our Fair Employment Practices Act to require reasonable accommodations. Employers reading your Blog should not
be as alarmed as you would have them be." A fair enough point, though there were hardly a significant number of cases in this area to begin with and I don’t believe the law was as settled as Richard suggests. In any event, I think the Curry decision’s broad application to employment law warrants the concern that I have sounded.