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Dean Falavolito obtains summary judgment for Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission in disability discrimination lawsuit

Co-Chair of the Employment Law Group Dean Falavolito obtained a summary judgment earlier this week for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission in a case where a former employee claimed that the company discriminated against his alcohol and drug-related disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008.

The plaintiff, a former tollbooth supervisor, was subject to a Last Chance Agreement due to prior attendance issues and was terminated for violating the attendance requirements included in that agreement when he missed several consecutive days of work in 2009. His most recent absence was due to his decision to attend a non-medical drug and alcohol treatment center that was not approved under the Turnpike’s sick and accident leave policy that provided for a paid leave of absence. Although the plaintiff had previously been approved to attend numerous treatment centers with paid leave, he believed the Turnpike should have accommodated his request by granting him unpaid leave without proper notification of his intent to do so.

By his extensive and thorough presentation of discovery, Dean made it evident to The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania that the Turnpike acted in full compliance with the ADAAA and that the plaintiff failed to fulfill his obligations. For the first time, the court noted that although the ADAAA made significant changes to the rules governing the rights of workers with disabilities, it “did not materially alter those provisions recognizing that drug- and alcohol-related disability claims are “treat[ed] differently from other disabilities by ensuring that employers do not have to go through the [same] accommodation process.”” On this basis, it concluded that it would be too onerous for employers such as the Turnpike to have to guess what accommodation is being requested without adequate communication from the employee. The court specifically stated that if a “breakdown” in the interactive process occurs by the fault of the plaintiff, it will defeat an individual’s claim for reasonable accommodation.

The court also noted, in accordance with prior precedent, that even though the Turnpike had complied with the reasonable accommodation requirements of the ADAAA, it was not technically required to do so in this case, as the plaintiff had been “accommodated” multiple times in the past while attending treatment facilities and was not required to continue to accommodate leaves of absence for “unsuccessful” treatment.

For more information, click here to view the court’s opinion in full.