Oct 18, 2013

By Eric B. Meyer

Work got you anxious and depressed? Well then, you may be disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

But if you think that the ADA requires your employer to transfer you away from the supervisor who is giving you a hard time, think again.

In Lu v. Longs Drug Stores, Ms. Lu claimed that her supervisor discriminated against her based on her national origin and then retaliated against her after she complained. She further alleged that the abuse caused her to develop anxiety, depression, shingles, and diabetes.

Was a supervisor transfer request unreasonable?

On Ms. Lu’s behalf, her treating physician requested that the employer transfer her away from her supervisor. The employer declined and, ultimately, terminated Ms. Lu after she missed over a year of work to treat for her various disabilities.

Ms. Lu sued then under the ADA only, claiming that the employer had failed to reasonable accommodate her. The employer admitted that Ms. Lu was both disabled and had suffered an adverse employment action.

However, it argued that the transfer request was unreasonable because the law does not require an employer to transfer a disabled employee away from a supervisor.

What the court said

The court agreed:

The law forecloses Ms. Lu’s arguments that a transfer to a different Longs store would have been a reasonable accommodation in this case…. Regardless, … there is no question of fact that the communications from Dr. Wu failed to convey to Longs that Ms. Lu could return to work if she obtained the accommodation of a transfer…. Accordingly, a transfer would not have been a reasonable accommodation in the specific circumstances of this case because there is no evidence to suggest that a transfer would have allowed Ms. Lu to return to work and perform the essential functions of her job.”

Now, while the employer here prevailed on the ADA transfer issue, it may have dodged a bullet when Ms. Lu elected not to pursue claims of national origin discrimination and retaliation.

Don’t forget that while the ADA may not require a transfer away from a supervisor, Title VII charges employers with taking steps that are reasonably designed to end discrimination in the workplace. One way this can be done is by transferring the harasser. Another is by transferring the victim.

So, slow down and remember the interplay between anti-discrimination laws.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.