Denial of Reasonable Accommodation
The EEOC held that a complainant was unlawfully denied reasonable accommodation while recovering from a stroke, forcing him to take disability retirement and endure serious financial hardship. Blount v. Dept. of Homeland Security, Appeal No. 0720070010 (10/21/09). As a result, the EEOC awarded $200,000 in nonpecuniary (compensatory) damages and reinstatement with reasonable accommodation, not front pay as recommended by the administrative judge. The Office of Federal Operations OFO) agreed with the AJ’s assessment of damages to be awarded to the complainant, an immigration status verification officer, as the agency failed to accommodate him when he asked to work at home during his rehabilitation on at least a part-time basis following a stroke.
The Commission found that the agency had failed to act in good faith when it made no attempt to individually assess the complainant’s limitations or explore possible accommodations. Rejecting the agency’s claim that the complainant was not a “qualified individual with a disability,” the OFO upheld the AJ’s credibility determinations and determined that there was evidence that the complainant could have performed some functions at home, but his supervisors summarily denied his requests for reasonable accommodation. As a result, the complainant was forced to take a disability retirement due to his inability to work.
In its final decision, the Commission determined that the constructive discharge claim of being forced to retire was “inextricably intertwined in the EEO process,” and it was appropriate for the AJ to retain jurisdiction rather than remanding the matter to the MSPB as a “mixed case.” It also decided that the AJ’s award of front pay until age 65 was in error as the appropriate remedy is to return the complainant to the workplace as there was no evidence that it was so intolerable that he couldn’t return to work with reasonable accommodation. The AJ’s award of $200,000 in compensatory damages was upheld as the complainant has suffered from severe depression and was unable to provide child support, resulting in state legal action against him.