Worker Can’t Pursue Legal Action After Denied Accommodation Request
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.