Martinizing Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act
47 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2012 Last revised: 12 Dec 2012
Date Written: February 17, 2012
Prior to the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, relatively few cases proceeded past the initial inquiry of whether the plaintiff was covered by the ADA. Consequently, the scope of an employer’s obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation to an individual with a disability remains under-developed and under-theorized. Now that the Amendments have made it easier for a plaintiff to prove he has a disability under the ADA, we can expect to see more courts struggling with many difficult reasonable accommodation issues. The current case law is chaotic, providing little guidance to employers and courts in determining whether an accommodation is reasonable, and making it impossible to discern any unified principle to explain the chaotic results. This Article does just that. It identifies the scope of an employer’s obligation to reasonably accommodate its employees by proposing a unified approach to the reasonable accommodation provision.
I am facilitated in this endeavor by relying on a case under Title III, the public accommodations Title of the ADA. In PGA Tour, Inc. v. Martin, involving professional golfer Casey Martin’s request to use a golf cart during the final rounds of the tournament, the Supreme Court held that the PGA Tour has to provide Casey Martin with a reasonable modification to its no-golf-carts rule because the modification did not “fundamentally alter” the nature of the public accommodation. This inquiry involved two questions: 1) does the modification sought alter such an essential aspect of the game of golf that it would be unacceptable even if it affected all competitors equally; and 2) does it give an unfair advantage to the individual with the disability. Although an employer is not a golf tournament, the standard from Martin can provide clarity to the vague “reasonableness” standard in Title I’s reasonable accommodation provision. First, using the fundamental alteration standard, courts should determine whether the accommodation would “fundamentally alter” the nature of the employer/employee relationship. Second, when an accommodation places burdens on other employees, courts should determine if the accommodation causes an unreasonable burden by asking the analogous question from Martin of whether the accommodation would give an unfair advantage to the employee with a disability. Thus, although not a perfect fit, Martinizing Title I offers a helpful structure for providing a coherent, unified approach to the reasonable accommodation provision under the ADA.
Keywords: disability, reasonable accommodation, employment, ADA
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