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Offer Accommodations Not Retirement
Michelle Suvada worked for the Gordon Flesch Company (GFC) in Illinois.

In 2009, Suvada learned that she had stage-four cervical cancer. When she spoke about her diagnosis with her manager, Suvada said she did not yet know what her treatment would be, but assumed that she'd need time off. According to Suvada, her manager, Victoria Slouka, pressured Suvada about her availability for the upcoming season. Suvada said this made her feel that she would be terminated if she did not resign.

At the end of the conversation, Slouka asked if Suvada was giving her two weeks' resignation notice. Suvada said that she didn't want to stop working and asked about "easier jobs." Slouka said that she did not know of any. Twenty minutes later, Suvada emailed her resignation to GFC, writing that she was quitting to avoid "screwing [her co-workers] over."

Later, Slouka sued GFC under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). According to Slouka, GFC failed to accommodate her, which forced her to quit ("constructive discharge"). In response, GFC argued that it couldn't have accommodated her since she quit before asking for help.

The Court ruled against GFC. "[T]he law requires very little of the employee to trigger the employer's duty to engage in the interactive process; all that is required is that the employee notify the employer of her disability," the Court explained.

"Suvada told Slouka that she had been diagnosed with cancer," the Court observed. "[W]hen Suvada properly notified GFC of her disability, Suvada triggered GFC's duty to engage in the interactive process."

"But Suvada did more than just notify Slouka of her disability; she also asked for an accommodation, and asked if there were any easier jobs available," the Court wrote. "Suvada insisted that 'she didn't want to stop working,' [which] should have been enough to prompt GFC to consider whether there was a reasonable way to accommodate Suvada's limitations."

However, "Slouka did nothing to provide Suvada with further information on what other jobs were available," the Court noted. "As a result, Suvada never ... talked to anyone in HR to discuss other job openings at GFC."

"In [disability cases], the employer has a heightened duty to engage the employee in the interactive process to identify a reasonable accommodation," the Court stated. "[G]iven GFC's heightened duty to accommodate Suvada's disability, it was reasonable for Suvada to infer ... that she had no future at GFC [and that] there were no other jobs available for her. [Thus, a jury may conclude that] Suvada was constructively discharged." [Suvada v. Gordon Flesch Co. (USDC NDIL 2013) no. 11 C 07892]

For information on this topic, request:
5730 Employer Must Accommodate Disabled Persons
5735 Accommodation Must Be Reasonable
9800 Accommodation Policy

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