Alito Appeals Court Rules Request For Specific Accommodation Is Not
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
February 8, 2006
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA--A federal appeals court ordered a new trial last week in a disability discrimination lawsuit because the original trial judge gave faulty instructions to the jury over a request for a reasonable accommodation.
The ruling, handed down on January 30 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, was one of the last opinions published with Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. on the court -- the day before he was confirmed as Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case involved Arnie Armstrong, who worked as a full-time shipping and receiving clerk at Burdette Tomlin Memorial Hospital in Middle Township, New Jersey, beginning in 1980.
According to the court's 39-page decision, Armstrong missed work for several extended periods because of back and neck pain until his doctor ordered him to take a "light duty" job. But just two weeks after he was assigned to a new position distributing linens, he found that the repetitive lifting involved was more strenuous than the shipping job.
Armstrong claimed that he then asked for a different position as a reasonable accommodation, but that hospital officials told him that, because of his physical limitations, he could either transfer to another hospital jog, apply for temporary disability insurance, or resign.
Armstrong said that, since no other jobs were available, he chose to go on disability. He was fired a year later.
According to a story published by Law.com, Armstrong said he suspected that his employer had no intention of accommodating his needs, claiming that supervisors had said he was "getting old" and that they did not want to have a "cripple" working in the department.
He sued the hospital in 2000, alleging discrimination based on disability and age and violation of his rights under federal labor law. But the jury rejected his claims.
In last week's decision, however, the appellate court said the trial judge gave improper instructions to the jury which would have required Armstrong to prove that he had proposed a "specific reasonable accommodation" rather than just asking for "an accommodation", which is all the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act requires.
"As Armstrong's failure to accommodate claim was denied because he was erroneously forced to demonstrate an element that he did not need to prove, we must reverse," wrote Appeals Court Judge Thomas L. Ambro, in the opinion which was joined by Alito and Judge D. Michael Fisher.
Ambro added that, with the proper instructions, a jury might have found that the hospital "did not make a good-faith effort to assist" Armstrong in coming up with a reasonable accommodation.
Text of decision "Armstrong v. Burdette Tomlin Memorial Hospital" (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit)
"3rd Circuit: Request for Accommodation Need Not Be Specific" (Law.com)