Failure-to-Accommodate-Disability Claim (Based on Parking Spot Request) Survives Summary Judgment Against Charter Communications

In a recent case, D’Alessio v. Charter Communications, LLC, 2020 WL 5638721 (EDNY Sept. 21, 2020), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment as to plaintiff’s claim that defendant failed to accommodate plaintiff’s disability (in one respect) under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the New York City Human Rights Law.

According to the decision, plaintiff suffers from a degenerative spinal condition that makes walking, especially long distances, difficult. In sum, plaintiff sought a reasonable accommodation in the form of permission to park in a parking lot (the “Tech Ops” parking lot) which was relatively close to plaintiff’s work space and, thus, enabled her to walk a shorter distance to get to work.

The law, as summarized by the court:

To establish a prima facie failure to accommodate claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), a plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) plaintiff is a person with a disability under the meaning of the ADA; (2) an employer covered by the statute had notice of his disability; (3) with reasonable accommodation, plaintiff could perform the essential functions of the job at issue; and (4) the employer has refused to make such accommodations. [Internal quotation marks omitted.]

The same standard, held the court, is applied for failure to accommodate claims under the City Law. (It was undisputed that the first three elements were satisfied.)

Applying the law, the court explained:

The evidence proffered by plaintiff demonstrates that plaintiff requested use of the Tech Ops handicapped spot as a reasonable accommodation for her disability and that she told Charter that she was sometimes not able to park there because other vehicles occupied the spot. The record evidence also confirms that the spot, and other nearby spots, were frequently occupied when plaintiff needed them, typically before 8:00 a.m., and often by Charter-affiliated vehicles that did not have a handicap placard. … The question is, then, did Charter deny plaintiff’s reasonable accommodation request by allowing plaintiff to continue to park in the Tech Ops lot, but declining to do anything about the vehicles that prevented her from using the handicapped spot?

A jury could answer that question in the affirmative. It is fundamental that a “[r]easonable accommodation may take many forms, but it must be effective.” Noll v. Int’l Bus. Machines Corp., 787 F.3d 89, 95 (2d Cir. 2015) (emphasis added); see US Airways, Inc. v. Barnett, 535 U.S. 391, 400 (2002) (“It is the word ‘accommodation,’ not the word ‘reasonable,’ that conveys the need for effectiveness.”). A jury could find that, in order to grant plaintiff’s reasonable accommodation request, Charter was required to ensure that the spot was available when plaintiff needed it and that, by declining to do anything in this regard, Charter denied her reasonable accommodation request. In sum, plaintiff has satisfied the four elements of her prima facie case. And Charter, the burden now having shifted to it, has come forth with no evidence demonstrating that the requested accommodation was unreasonable or that it would have imposed an undue hardship.

The court proceeded to briefly consider, and reject defendant’s arguments, and concluded that summary judgment (with respect to plaintiff’s 2016 accommodation request) must be denied.[1]The court did, however, grant defendant’s motion for summary judgment that a subsequent (2017) accommodation was “inadequate.”

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1. The court did, however, grant defendant’s motion for summary judgment that a subsequent (2017) accommodation was “inadequate.”
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