What Do You Think: Could Software Engineer Put Feet on Desk as Accommodation?

Chris Parker

Chandler, AZ (WorkersCompensation.com) – An employee may seek reasonable accommodations after providing records of a medical diagnosis. But does a diagnosis alone mean he’s entitled to accommodations?

A federal District Court in Arizona recently addressed that issue in determining whether a software engineer who suffered from leg swelling and an overabundance of red blood cells could put his feet on his desk as a reasonable accommodation.

The senior software engineer suffered from edema in his legs, high blood pressure, intermittent fluid retention, and polycythemia vera, a medical condition where the body produces too many red blood cells.

The engineer often rested his feet up on his desk to relieve certain of his symptoms. A colleague complained that putting his feet on his desk was unprofessional.

The engineer emailed a company physician informing her that he had been diagnosed with polycythemia vera and high blood pressure and asking that he be allowed “to elevate his feet at work as needed to keep his symptoms to a minimum.”

The engineer’s physician submitted requested medical documents indicating that the engineer suffered from polycythemia vera and flushing. However, according to the company’s doctor, the reports stated that the engineer was asymptomatic and was able to carry on all his pre-disease work activities without restriction.

Based on the records, the company’s physician denied the engineer’s accommodation request.

The engineer sued, alleging that the company failed to provide him a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

To establish an ADA discrimination claim, a plaintiff must show that 1) he has a disability under the ADA; 2) he is a qualified individual, in that he can perform the essential functions of his job; and 3) the employer failed to provide a requested reasonable accommodation, failed to engage in an interactive process to identify a possible reasonable accommodation, or terminated him because of the disability.

Did the engineer establish an ADA claim?

A. Yes. He provided medical evidence that he suffered from multiple health conditions that affected him at work.

B. No. The engineer never explained how the condition affected a major life activity.

If you picked B, you agreed with the court in Vinson v. General Motors, No. CV-20-01077-PHX-SMB (D. Ariz. 05/16/22)which held that the engineer didn’t show that he had a disability within the meaning of the ADA.

The court observed that an individual has disability under the ADA if he has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Those activities include completing manual tasks, walking, standing, working, and major bodily functions, such as normal cell growth.

However, in this case, the court reasoned, the engineer failed to show he had a condition that substantially limited a major life activity. Moreover, the court observed, the engineer didn’t specifically identify an alleged disability when he responded to the company’s motion for summary judgment. The court observed that his arguments all related swelling in his legs, while the medical records pointed to other diagnoses. However, neither the engineer nor any of the records identified which major life activities were at issue.

Because the engineer failed to establish that he had a disability, the court granted the district’s motion for summary judgment.

This feature does not provide legal advice.