Employee who quit during interactive process cannot pursue ADA claim

published in McAfee & Taft EmployerLINC | February 9, 2015

By Nathan Whatley

A federal appeals court recently decided against an employee who failed to satisfy her obligation to cooperate in the interactive process with her employer when searching for a reasonable accommodation for her disability.  The case was filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of Pamela Manning, alleging that her former employer, Kohl’s Department Stores, Inc., had denied Manning an accommodation and constructively discharged her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The EEOC claimed that Kohl’s had given Manning no alternative but to quit when the retailer rejected her request to work a particular modified schedule.   However, the court found in favor of the employer.

Job changes

Manning, who suffered from Type I diabetes, had worked for Kohl’s as a sales associate since 2006.  Kohl’s restructured the staffing system used in its stores in early 2010.  The new staffing system, and an accompanying reduction in force in Manning’s department, resulted in a Manning having to work an inconsistent and less predictable schedule.  Manning complained to her supervisor that the erratic work schedule was aggravating her diabetes, and asked that she be given a more predictable schedule and allowed to return to working the daytime shifts she had worked before the staffing changes.  As was its right, Kohl’s directed Manning to provide a physician’s statement outlining the effects of the new schedule on her health and verifying the need for a more predictable schedule.  Manning provided a note from her physician that supported her request to return to working the daytime shifts that she had previously worked.

Employee quits during accommodation discussion

Manning met with her supervisor to discuss the physician’s note and her request for a revised schedule.  The supervisor informed Manning that Kohl’s could not meet her request or agree that she would be consistently scheduled for daytime shifts.  The supervisor went on to state that Kohl’s was willing to discuss alternatives to Manning’s preferred accommodation.  However, instead of continuing with the discussion, Manning told her supervisor that she had “no choice but to quit.”  Manning then placed her keys on the table and slammed the door as she walked out of the meeting.  Manning’s supervisor followed her out and attempted to get Manning to reconsider resigning, but she refused and left the store.  A few days later, Manning’s supervisor tried to reach Manning by telephone to discuss the accommodation issue further, but she refused to speak with anyone from the store.

The trial court found in favor of Kohl’s based on Manning’s failure to engage in the ADA’s required interactive process.  The appeals court noted that “The interactive process involves an informal dialogue between the employee and the employer in which the two parties discuss the issues affecting the employee and potential reasonable accommodations that might address those issues. … It requires bilateral cooperation and communication.”  In this case the court found that the employer had attempted to participate in that dialogue, but the employee had not.  The court concluded that “Kohl’s acted in good faith when it initiated an interactive process and displayed its willingness to cooperate with Manning, not once but twice, to no effect.”

Lessons learned

Here, Kohl’s handled the situation beautifully.  When the employer explained it could not grant Manning a work schedule consisting exclusively of day shifts, it went one step further and tried to discuss other alternative accommodations with her.  When Manning blew up and quit, her supervisor unsuccessfully attempted to get Manning to withdraw her resignation and talk further about possible accommodations. An accommodation discussion between the employer and employee is a two-way street, and the employee must cooperate, too.

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  • EEOC v. Kohl’s Dept. Stores, Inc. 14-1268 (1st Cir. 12/19/14