Department of Education Obtains Reasonable Accommodation Win for Employee
My grandfather used to say, “if it ain’t wrote down, it didn’t happen.” Apparently, the Department of Education agrees.
In a just-published decision, the District of the District of Columbia found in favor of the Department of Education (“DOE”) where an employee requested a reasonable accommodation for more than two years. The case is Matos v. Devos, 16-cv-2069 (D. D.C. 2018). The plaintiff, Anamaria Matos, had a documented and severe sensitivity to fragrances. In response, the DOE documented every interaction with Ms. Matos, and every step in its process trying to come to a reasonable accommodation. The DOE allowed Ms. Matos to work from home as much as possible. When Ms. Matos requested a particular kind of ventilation equipment for when she had to be in the office, the DOE requested documentation from her physician. The DOE then followed up when it received no response, and then followed up again. It provided the equipment once a physician certification was provided, though ultimately that device did not perform sufficiently well.
The building in which Ms. Matos worked then underwent some planned renovations, and the DOE allowed Ms. Matos to work at home and in different offices during the construction. Ms. Matos continued to have symptoms and continued to request accommodations from the DOE. Slightly more than two years passed before Ms. Matos and the DOE could find an acceptable resolution, one that combined telecommuting and wearing a different mask and ventilation in the office. Ms. Matos sued, claiming the delay was unreasonable and constituted an interference with her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADAA). She also claimed a hostile work environment and harassment due to her disability.
Though more than two years had passed before a resolution could be reached, the court denied Ms. Matos’s claims in their entirety. The court found that there was no material fact that supported Ms. Matos’s claims.
In granting summary judgment in favor of the DOE, the court found that the DOE demonstrated a “good faith engagement” in the interactive process, that it responded reasonably and promptly to Ms. Matos’s requests and suggested alternatives. The opinion is notable that the documentation maintained by the DOE allowed the court to reach this conclusion because of the records maintained by the DOE. (In fact, at one point in the opinion, the court actually apologizes for reciting voluminous dates, but notes that “they are relevant to Matos’s claims and hopefully will aid in any appellate review.” Emphasis added)
This case points out just how important it can be to document everything and maintain that documentation.