Worker Can’t Pursue Legal Action After Denied Accommodation Request

A program analyst for the FBI sued her employer for not offering a reasonable accommodation as part of her return to work plan.
By: | February 20, 2019 • 2 min read

Sharon Lee Reagan-Diaz was hired by the Federal Bureau of Investigations as a management program analyst working on the Sentinel Project, developing a web-based application for the Bureau’s case-management system.

Then Reagan-Diaz was injured on the job, resulting in extreme difficulty completing daily tasks and sometimes the inability to get out of bed. She filed for workers’ compensation under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA).

After a few months, Reagan-Diaz contacted the Bureau regarding a plan for her return to work. She requested a 10-hour-per-week workweek to start, with the hope of increasing her time as she acclimated back into the job. The Bureau countered with a 20-hour workweek, which Reagan-Diaz rejected, instead filing two administrative complaints. Both complaints were dismissed.

Reagan-Diaz filed a lawsuit, claiming the officials at her job failed to offer a reasonable accommodation for her disability as required under the Rehabilitation Act.


According to the court of appeals, Reagan-Diaz had to prove “she was able to perform the essential functions of her job with or without reasonable accommodation.” That meant she had to prove a two-hour-per-day, five-days-a-week workweek was sufficient for her to complete expected tasks.

One supervisor argued, “[i]t would have been impossible for Ms. Reagan-Diaz to serve as an effective liaison on such a limited schedule” because “[t]he work on Sentinel was extremely fast-paced and constantly changing.” Even Reagan-Diaz described the work as “very fast-paced” with “impromptu meetings all the time.”

Despite agreeing the job was demanding, Reagan-Diaz still urged the court to allow her failure-to-accommodate claim to proceed to trial. She argued that by going through FECA, her employers “deprived her of the ‘interactive process’ with the agency that the Rehabilitation Act guarantees.”

Still, the court was unmoved. To make a viable claim, it said, she had to be able to perform the essential functions of her job when her requested accommodation was denied. And she could not.

Scorecard: Sharon Lee Reagan-Diaz will not be able to pursue a lawsuit against the FBI, because she was unable to prove she could complete her required tasks in the suggested timeframe.

Takeaway: When an injured employee returns to work, offering appropriate accommodations can significantly impact that worker’s productivity and likeliness to file suit.

Autumn Heisler is the digital producer and a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]