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In Williams v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (the federal appeals court that governs Illinois) agreed that an employee’s ADA disability claim and Title VII gender-discrimination and retaliation claims could not survive where the employee failed to identify any issues of fact to support his claims.

The employee, a school social worker suffering from depression, anxiety, and chronic sinusitis, made a number of accommodation requests, including a uniform start and end time to his workday, a reduced caseload, an assignment to a single school, the removal of a particular school from his responsibilities, a private office at each of his assigned schools with dedicated equipment for his use, an exemption from REACH evaluations, and a life-long waiver of the Chicago residency rule. CPS granted some of these accommodations but rejected others, citing insufficient medical evidence to support the request or the unfeasibility of providing the requested accommodations. The employee also applied, but was not selected, for two lateral positions and for inclusion on a summer special assessment team due, in pertinent part, to his failure to obtain a “proficient” rating on his evaluations. After filing two discrimination charges with the EEOC, the employee filed suit, alleging that CPS failed to select him for positions due to his gender and disability and in retaliation for requesting disability accommodations and filing discrimination charges.

In upholding the lower court’s dismissal of the social worker’s case, the Seventh Circuit first rejected the employee’s contention that CPS failed to engage in a good-faith interactive process regarding his accommodation requests. Rather, the court found that the employee’s requests were either unavailable, unreasonable, or were granted. The court further noted that even if there was a breakdown in the interactive process, the employee failed to show that a reasonable accommodation was possible but not offered. The court next found that the employee failed to demonstrate that CPS’s reasons for not selecting him for certain positions were discriminatory or constituted an adverse employment action, given that no promotions or pay raises were at stake. Finally, the court concluded that the employee failed to provide sufficient evidence to show that CPS retaliated against him for exercising his ADA or Title VII rights.

This case shows that school districts may deny accommodation requests that are unreasonable or unavailable under the ADA.  However, ADA accommodation requests are fact sensitive, and school officials should exercise caution when making decisions that could implicate the ADA and/or Title VII.

Contact Cindi DeCola with questions about this decision and your ADA and Title VII related inquiries.

Source: Williams v. Board of Education of City of Chicago, 982 F.3d 495 (7th Cir. 2020)