Court case expands employees’ ADA parking rights

| November 13, 2013

Before last month, employees had to show that a reasonable work accommodation, such as the provision of handicapped parking spaces, was linked to the performance of essential job functions if they wanted to file a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). That changed when the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in an employee’s favor in Feist v. Louisiana, 2013 US App. LEXIS 19133, expanding on employees’ ADA parking obligations.

international symbol of accessibility painted on pavement

A recent court case is expected to have significant repercussions, broadening employers’ obligations to provide accessible parking. From taberandrew.

The suit, brought by Pauline G. Feist, a former assistant attorney general for the State of Louisiana, was an appeal of a federal trial court’s ruling. Feist had alleged that her employer, the Louisiana Department of Justice (LDOJ), violated the ADA when it failed to grant her request for a free, on-site parking space. Feist, who suffers from osteoarthritis of the knee, had placed the request because of her medical condition. The district court denied her claim, characterizing it as unreasonable. Where lawyers park their cars have no bearing on their ability to cross-examine a witness, draft a client’s will, or file a motion.

But according to the Fifth Circuit, the lower court erred in its ruling when it applied an erroneous standard: Whether an accommodation is reasonable does not depend on whether it helps an employee perform the essential functions of her job. The Fifth Circuit did not, however, provide an opinion as to whether Feist’s request to the LDOJ was reasonable. It remanded that issue to the district court, which must retry the suit under the corrected standard.

The ruling from the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit, which also includes federal district courts in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, was surprising and cautionary, given its traditional pro-business leanings. Employers — even those beyond the three states covered by the Fifth Circuit — may wish to more carefully consider accommodation requests that address workplace access.

In light of the ruling, law firm Ford & Harrison LLP recommends that employers review their existing ADA parking policies and procedures to ensure that they are not limited to those that only facilitate staff’s ability to perform a position’s essential functions. Employers are encouraged to continue engaging in an interactive process with disabled workers who require or request accommodation. Employers may also wish to consider offering additional training to human resources personnel or managers to ensure that they understand the new ruling.

Because the Fifth Circuit refused to determine whether Feist’s request was reasonable, however, the parameters of the new ruling are still uncertain, leaving employers unsure about the extent to which they’re obligated to accommodate disabled staff.

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Category: Handicapped parking

About the Author ()

Cielo Lutino is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. She has written for such publications as the L Magazine and Portland Monthly, and her literary nonfiction has appeared in journals such as the Los Angeles Review and Cold Mountain Review.

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