Employment Law Journal

Employer need not provide accommodations to make individual “qualified” under ADA

By Bruce Voss

An employer is not required to make accommodations to help an employee become “qualified” to perform essential job functions under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Ninth Circuit has ruled.

To prevail on a disability discrimination claim, an individual must first show he or she is a “qualified individual” with a disability. A “qualified individual” is someone who can perform the essential functions of the employment position the person holds or desires.

In Johnson v. Board of Trustees, an Idaho teacher was terminated because she failed to obtain the required certification. The teacher claimed her severe depression prevented her from taking the college courses needed for the certification; she alleged the school board violated the ADA by refusing her last-minute request for “provisional authorization” to teach even though she didn’t have the required certification.

The Ninth Circuit rejected the employee’s claim, finding she was not “qualified” for the position. The Court stated: “Unless a disabled individual independently satisfies the job prerequisites, she is not “otherwise qualified,” and the employer is not obligated to furnish any reasonable accommodation that would enable her to perform the essential job functions.”

The Ninth Circuit disagreed with the E.E.O.C.’s interpretation of the statute, and concluded: “In sum, an individual who fails to satisfy the job prerequisites cannot be considered “qualified” within the meaning of the ADA unless she shows that the prerequisite is itself discriminatory in effect. Otherwise, the default rule remains that “the obligation to make reasonable accommodation is owed only to an individual with a disability who . . . satisfies

all the skill, experience, education and other job-related selection criteria.”

Hawaii employers are governed by the Ninth Circuit’s interpretation of federal law. The ruling continues a trend of more conservative Ninth Circuit panels strictly construing the requirements of the ADA and other discrimination statutes.

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