That was the question that needed answering and got it in Suvada v. Gordon Flesch Co. Inc., a thoughtful Sept. 12 opinion from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
The court laid it out: Employee Suvada was diagnosed with Stage 4 cervical cancer. She told her supervisor she had cancer (without mentioning which type) explained that she was having difficulty lifting (she was a production employee at a printing company ), asked if there were any easier jobs available and explained that she wanted to keep on working. It was a 10-minute conversation.
In denying summary judgment to the employer, the court held that Suvada communicated enough information to trigger the employer's duty to ask follow-up questions, despite the fact that she did not explain what “easier” meant.
Moreover, wrote the court, “That Survada did not specify what type of job she desired does not mean, however, that she failed to trigger the interactive process, and does not absolve [the defendant] of asking further questions to search for a reasonable accommodation.”
Wait, there is one more really interesting issue: The plaintiff resigned and sued for constructive discharge. Constructive discharge is a claim under Title VII that requires a plaintiff to act as a reasonable person would before quitting. But because the ADA imposes affirmative duties on the employer to discuss a reasonable accommodation (as opposed to a constructive-discharge claim under Title VII), courts analyze an ADA constructive-discharge claim under a different standard.
“Thus, when considering a constructive discharge brought under the ADA, the Court must evaluate the reasonableness of the employee's response with this heightened duty in mind. Because an employer must do more to see if an accommodation can be made for an employee with a disability, the standard for reasonableness [of the employee's decision to resign] must be correspondingly more forgiving for an employee bringing an ADA-based constructive discharge claim. To hold otherwise would undermine the interactive-process requirement demanded by the ADA."
I love this stuff. This case is rich with ADA ideas. Take a read.