United States: What's An "Individualized Analysis" – And Why Should I Care?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) poses ongoing compliance challenges and attracts significant attention from plaintiffs' lawyers and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The resulting litigation continues to illustrate that inflexible policies and practices are a recipe for disaster. 

To manage effectively, especially if they suspect that an employee is trying to "game the system," employers must perform and document detailed, individualized analyses of each situation.  Additionally, as a recent appeals court decision makes clear, employers cannot afford to lose sight of the bigger picture when considering requests for accommodation. 

Since the ADA Amendments Act and implementing regulations went into effect over four years ago, a much larger proportion of the workforce can now be considered "disabled" and thus entitled to reasonable accommodation under the law.  So the focus of litigation has moved much more toward determining when and whether an accommodation is reasonable and required, rather than determining whether the employee is "disabled."  This was precisely the issue presented in Feist v. State of Louisiana.

Analyzing Reasonable Accommodations

Pauline Feist, a former assistant attorney general at the Louisiana Department of Justice, had osteoarthritis of the knee, a condition that her employer acknowledged could entitle her to a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. The question was whether a reserved onsite parking space would constitute a required accommodation.  Feist filed suit in federal district court, which dismissed her "failure to accommodate" claim, reasoning that she did not prove that the "parking situation limited her ability to perform the 'essential functions' of her job."

On appeal the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit disagreed, concluding that the ADA requires employers to look beyond a strict nexus between the requested accommodation and essential functions of the job.  The court wrote that employers must also consider whether a requested accommodation would enable the disabled employee to enjoy workplace "benefits and privileges"  in a manner equivalent to similarly situated, nondisabled employees. 

So without deciding whether the requested onsite parking space would actually constitute a reasonable accommodation in this case, the 5th Circuit sent the case back to the district court for further consideration.  Doing so, the appellate court noted that EEOC guidance explicitly states that a reserved parking space may constitute a reasonable accommodation under some circumstances.

The 5th Circuit's ruling is consistent with a 2010 decision by the 3rd Circuit, concluding that a sight-impaired employee could be accommodated with daylight shifts, which would facilitate her commute.  Again, although there was no direct connection between the accommodations and the designated essential functions of the job, the requested accommodation could nevertheless permit the disabled employee to enjoy workplace benefits and privileges equivalent to those enjoyed by similarly situated, non-disabled co-workers. 

Understanding Your Legal Obligations

Before becoming too alarmed about wrestling with the meaning of "workplace benefits and privileges," it's worth recognizing that both of these appellate decisions involved commuting to or from work, or access to the workplace.  Equal access is, of course, a cornerstone of the ADA.  Additionally, courts have recognized that regular attendance can indeed be an essential job function.  So even if not specifically identified as such, regular attendance would implicitly be an essential function of most jobs. 

Thus, courts and the EEOC have recognized that accommodations such as schedule changes or reserved parking spaces can be reasonable and necessary in order to provide a disabled worker equal benefits and privileges in the workplace.  The key here is that an employer can only determine whether such accommodations are required by conducting an interactive, individualized, analysis of the circumstances.  This is the most important lesson to be gleaned from the foregoing decisions.

Other recent developments underscore the importance of conducting individualized analyses.  For example, the EEOC recently announced a $125,000 settlement with a company that purportedly declined to provide a wheelchair ramp to an employee who had suffered a severe leg injury.  It is suing another employer for allegedly refusing to consider alternatives when an employee suffering from kidney failure was unable to provide a urine specimen for pre-employment screening. 

And the Commission sued yet another company for withdrawing a job offer to an experienced worker who had lost sight in one eye as a child, but had subsequently performed well in similar jobs. 

In each of these cases, a documented, individualized, assessment of the relevant circumstances would have led to either a resolution of the situation or proof that the employer made good-faith efforts to accommodate an individual who is disabled.  

The Critical Role Of Supervisors

Of course potential accommodation issues can arise anywhere and any time. So to be successful, you must educate supervisors to recognize potential issues, and to confer with the company's human resources experts or legal advisors when such situations arise.  If supervisors don't at least recognize and report these situations early, they will be much more difficult to manage later. 

For example, when a hospital's explanation for terminating an employee kept changing as the situation unfolded, it was unable to defeat legal claims related to her allegations of ADA and Family Medical Leave Act violations. 

On the other hand, when the employer had a well-documented process for addressing an employee's job performance problems, including an opportunity for the employee to present his side of the story, it was able to prove that the employee never requested an accommodation until after he was terminated.  So that ADA claim was dismissed before trial.

The Moral Of The Story

ADA accommodation issues will continue to arise frequently in the workplace and there is no standard, one-size-fits-all solution for managing them.  The only way to manage these situations successfully is to train supervisors to recognize and report them earlier.  Then trained HR professionals can guide a documented, interactive process, addressing the employee's condition and the specific circumstances and requirements of the job.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions