A limited leave of absence under Rehabilitation Act may constitute an insufficient accommodation, as a matter of law

Lawlor v. Peoria School District No. 150, No. 15-2976 (7th Cir. Sept. 16, 2016).

Plaintiff was a teacher who was hired to teach students with learning disabilities; however, although her performance evaluations remained “satisfactory,” she suffered a relapse of her disabling condition, “post-traumatic stress disorder.” (“PTSD”). Her treating psychiatrist recommended a transfer from her work assignment. The school district granted the initial request for leave and a transfer, but plaintiff was transferred to a class, where she was required “to teach children with not only learning disabilities, but also with severe emotional and behavioral disorders.” Plaintiff was subsequently injured by a disruptive student, which in turn, re-triggered the onset of the PTSD. The school district refused another request for a transfer; but instead, the administration accelerated Plaintiff’s next performance appraisal, rated her as being unsatisfactory, and terminated her as part of a reduction in force, that precluded “unsatisfactory” teachers from being rehired.

Plaintiff filed an action under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, alleging that the employer failed to accommodate her PTSD. The district court granted summary judgment to the school district, holding that the employer had sufficiently engaged in an interactive process in order to accommodate the employee’s PTSD, by allowing a brief medical leave of absence. The Seventh Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment, concluding that the employee presented a genuine issue of material fact, about whether the school district unlawfully denied the second transfer request, noting that the employer should have recognized that many of the so-called performance issues were likely caused by PTSD symptoms. The Seventh Circuit also noted that the initial short term leave did not address the treating physician’s concern that compelling the employee o work with students possessing severe behavioral and emotional disorders aggravated her PTSD.

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