Recently in Peninsula Regional Medical Center v. Adkins, the Court of Appeals of Maryland, Maryland’s highest court, clarified what it means to be a qualified individual with a disability. In the case, the plaintiff, Tracy Adkins, sued her employer, Peninsula Regional Medical Center (PRMC), under the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA) for “intentional disability discrimination based on actual disability, intentional disability discrimination based on being regarded as having a disability, and failure to accommodate.”
The defendant, PRMC, argued that Ms. Adkins was not a “qualified individual with a disability” because she could not perform the essential functions of her job with or without reasonable accommodation. The lower court agreed and ruled in PRMC’s favor; however, the Court of Special Appeals held that PRMC, which was relying on outdated case law, misinterpreted the requirements of FEPA and overturned the lower court’s decision.
Modeled after the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the FEPA makes it unlawful to discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability in hiring, upgrading, promotion, tenure, demotion, transfer, layoff, termination, right of return from layoff, and rehiring. In order to be protected by FEPA and ADA, an employee must be a qualified individual with a disability. The Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (MCCR), the state agency that enforces FEPA, has issued implementing regulations defining a qualified individual with a disability as an individual with a disability who “[w]ith or without reasonable accommodation can perform the essential functions of the job in question”.
Both FEPA and ADA include re-assignment as a reasonable accommodation. Accordingly, a “qualified individual with a disability” includes employees who can either perform the essential functions of their current position or a re-assignment position.
This is an important distinction because it means employers have a duty to assess whether or not an employee, who can no longer perform the essential functions of his or her current position, can perform the essential functions of any other vacant positions. Indeed, the MCCR’s implementing regulations make it unlawful for a covered employer to fail to conduct an individualized assessment of an employee’s ability to perform the essential functions of “a job, not simply the job that the employee held.”
If you work in Maryland and believe that your employer has failed to consider re-assignment as a reasonable accommodation or assess whether you can perform the essential functions of other vacant positions, your rights under FEPA and ADA may have been violated. The attorneys at Lebau & Neuworth are experienced in litigating reasonable accommodation cases under the FEPA and the ADA, so we may be able to help you. Contact us at 888-456-2529 or lebauneuworth.com/contact-us.