Yesterday, the Sixth Circuit announced its decision in Jakubowski v. The Christ Hospital, Inc. which very well demonstrates the attention that employers need to pay to the interactive process when an employee approaches it for a reasonable accommodation for a disability.
Jakubowski was a family medicine resident at Christ Hospital, which noted a number of deficiencies in his performance due to cognitive issues that were later diagnosed as Asperger’s. Specifically, Jakubowski was having difficulty communicating his thoughts to people and processing what people communicated to him. Upon receiving the Asperger’s diagnosis, Jakubowski’s attorney contacted the hospital proposing that it accommodate Jakubowski’s disability with “knowledge and understanding.” In other words, Jakubowski believed that he could successfully continue his residency if the hospital employees were made aware of his condition and its symptoms and triggers. He acknowledged that he would still need to improve his patient communication skills, but insisted he could do that on his own.
The hospital met with Jakubowski about the proposed accommodation, but advised him that it did not have sufficient resources to comply. The hospital, however, offered to assist Jakubowski in finding a residency in pathology, a field that requires little or no patient interaction. When the parties could not agree on an accommodation, Jakubowski was terminated and later filed a lawsuit. During the course of discovery, Jakubowski presented expert testimony identifying many ways in which the hospital could have accommodated his Asperger’s that apparently had not been considered by either Jakubowski or the hospital. In response, the hospital presented expert witnesses who offered opinions suggesting that Jakubowski’s inability to communicate with other hospital employees and patients endangered the patients’ safety. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio granted the hospital’s motion for summary judgment, finding that Jakubowski was not “an otherwise qualified individual” entitled to the protections of the ADA and Ohio disability discrimination laws.