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Sign reserving chair for employee for ‘ergonomic reasons’ did not violate ADA

By Brandi O. Brown, J.D.

By placing a sign on the back of a chair stating that it was reserved for the plaintiff for “Ergonomic Reasons When Working,” his employer did not violate the ADA by sharing confidential information, ruled a federal district court in Maryland. The label indicated “at best, a tangential relationship to certain physical limitations or impairments,” none of which the pro se plaintiff alleged that he had. The defendant’s dispositive motions were granted and the plaintiff’s motion was denied (Tidwell v. Impaq International, LLC, January 12, 2016, Bennett, R.).

Requested reduced workload. In 2013 the public policy research firm instituted “higher expectations” with respect to the workload of the employee, an interviewer who administered computer-based surveys to individuals over the telephone. He requested a reduced workload as an accommodation based on an unspecified mental disability and glaucoma. According to the employee, the employer made a verbal accommodation allowing him the lower goal, but requested further information. He supplied a letter from his treating mental health provider, who requested that his productivity goal be reduced from 13 interviews per hour to seven. Although several other requested accommodations were granted, the employer only agreed to reduce his goal to 10 interviews per hour.

Sign placed on chair. Meanwhile, another worker allegedly placed on the back of the employee’s chair a sign stating: “This Chair Is Reserved For Miguel Tidwell For Ergonomic Reasons When Working.” In the employee’s view, this disclosed to other employees that he has a disability and, therefore, shared his personal, private, and confidential information. The employee resigned his job approximately one year later.

Lawsuit. The employee subsequently filed suit, claiming the employer violated the confidentiality provisions of the ADA by placing the sign on his chair and that it failed to provide a reasonable accommodation. Later, he filed a motion for summary judgment and the employer filed a cross-motion to dismiss or for summary judgment. The employee’s motion was summarily denied because he did not submit affidavits or other evidence in support. The court spent more time on the employer’s motion.

Sign did not disclose mental disability. Regarding the alleged violation of the ADA’s confidentiality provisions, which the court concluded that the allegation that the employer designated the employee’s chair as “ergonomic” was not a plausible allegation that it disclosed his alleged mental disability and/or glaucoma condition in violation of the federal law. The generally accepted definition of “ergonomic,” the court explained, indicated, “at best, a tangential relationship to certain physical limitations or impairments—none of which are alleged in this case.” Without allegations that suggested an alternate meaning, his claim was not plausible and was therefore dismissed.

Employer did not have to reduce goal. As for the allegation that the employer failed to provide him a reasonable accommodation when it refused to reduce to seven the number of calls he was expected to make, the court explained that reducing an employer’s production standards is not reasonable. In his deposition, the employee recognized that the hourly call requirement was uniformly applied to all employees. In addition, his mental health care provider testified that she was not aware of any accommodation that could have allowed the employee to meet that goal. Because the employee could not show that he could perform his position’s essential functions, summary judgment was granted on the failure-to-accommodate claim.