Reasonable Accommodation as Part and Parcel of the Antidiscrimination Project
104 Pages Posted: 2 Oct 2003
Date Written: September 2003
Numerous commentators have characterized the ADA's reasonable accommodation mandate - which sometimes requires employers to take affirmative steps that treat an individual with a disability differently from other workers - as a departure from the fundamental precepts of antidiscrimination law. These characterizations, however, fail to appreciate either the insights offered by disability theorists regarding the sources of inequality experienced by people with disabilities or the intrinsic conceptual kinship between the ADA's accommodation requirement and disparate impact liability and hostile environment liability under Title VII. Disability theory scholarship affirms that society's historic disregard for and devaluation of people with disabilities has resulted in workplaces where conventional structures, policies, and practices commonly act as barriers to disabled persons' equal employment opportunity. Examination of the conceptual foundations of disparate impact liability and hostile environment liability demonstrates that a central purpose of established antidiscrimination law is the removal of barriers to equal employment opportunity.
This Article contends that the ADA's reasonable accommodation requirement should be properly understood as a mechanism for ending discrimination against people with disabilities by requiring the removal of those workplace obstacles whose presence reflects society's disregard for and devaluation of people with disabilities. This understanding may guide courts called on to determine whether a particular requested accommodation should be deemed a "reasonable" accommodation in light of the ADA's antidiscrimination purpose. Ultimately, it may also prompt a broader recognition that the reasonable accommodation requirement is an integral part of our society's antidiscrimination project.
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