Reasonable Accommodation And Cold Baths

Written on 01/05/2023

Sergeant Cardell Bright worked for the jail in St. James Parish, Louisiana. When Bright was hired in April 2015, he had a medical problem with his bowels, was recovering from rectal surgery, and was diabetic. Bright’s diabetes is sensi­tive to stress, which causes low blood sugar and, ultimately diarrhea. When Bright experiences diarrhea, his rectum becomes extremely sore, and relief can only be obtained by sitting in a tub of cold water.

In a lawsuit, Bright alleged that he endured undue stress at the jail because of his romantic relationship with Raquel Banks, who was employed at the jail as a corrections officer. Banks and Bright later became engaged. Bright alleged that the warden was enamored with Banks and began to harass Bright in numerous ways, escalating his stress. On April 14, 2020, because of the warden’s harassment, Bright’s diabetes got out of control, and he called in sick.

Two days later, Bright was the only supervisory officer present onsite. The Department’s written policy is that “no deputy shall absent himself without proper leave.” Bright left early that day, departing before his replacement arrived. When the Parish terminated him, Bright sued, alleging that the Department failed to reasonably accommodate his disability.

Bright’s essential claim was that the specific accommodation at issue – a one-time request for emergency medical leave to leave the jail immediately and before his relief arrived – was a “rea­sonable accommodation” mandated by the Americans With Disabilities Act. A federal trial court disagreed.

The Court acknowledged that “dis­crimination under the ADA includes not making reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability unless such covered entity can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business of such covered entity. The reasonableness of the requested accommodation is a crucial part of the plaintiff’s prima facie case and therefore he bears the burden of proof as to reasonableness.

“In making a reasonable accommo­dation, the ADA requires employers to make modifications or adjustments to the work environment, or to the man­ner or circumstances under which the position held or desired is customarily performed, that enable a qualified indi­vidual with a disability to perform the essential functions of that position. But the ADA does not require an employer to relieve an employee of any essential functions of his or her job, modify those duties, reassign existing employees to perform those jobs, or hire new employ­ees to do so.

“Part of Bright’s prima facie case is to demonstrate not only that he had limitations due to his disability but also that the Sheriff knew about the limita­tions. The Court is not certain what the specific limitations pertaining to the bowel ailment were except that Bright had to use the bathroom frequently and his rectum would become inflamed causing much discomfort until he could soothe himself in a tub of water. The Court questions whether the need to use the bathroom frequently and to soothe a sore anus constitute limitations that the Sheriff would have been required to accommodate under the ADA by allowing Bright to leave immediately without relief having arrived.

“Anyone understands that when intestinal distress sets in the best place to be is at home, and Bright was given permission to go home. In fact, the Sheriff and his staff had accommodated Bright in this manner numerous times in the past but until April 16, 2020 Bright had never left before his relief arrived. If the impairment is using the bathroom itself then there were toilets at the jail that Bright could have used until his relief arrived. If the impairment was a sore rectum that was in need of a soak, then Bright surely could have waited a few minutes to let his relief arrive before he left the jail unsupervised that morning.

“Bright’s accommodation would have entailed relieving him of the re­quirement of being on site supervising at the jail which was an essential function of his job. An essential function of Bright’s job as a supervisory corrections officer was to be physically present at the jail where the inmates are housed. Bright’s job was not one that could be done remotely. So, the accommodation that Bright seeks, which was to be relieved of an essential function of his job (being physically present) that someone else would then be asked to perform (his relief), is not one that the ADA would require the Sheriff to provide.”

Bright v. Martin, 2022 WL 16712874 (E.D. La. 2022).

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