Sometimes there is no reasonable explanation for an employer’s refusal to accommodate an employee’s disability. In Felix v. the New York City Department of Education, 1:21-cv-06109-LGS (S.D.N.Y. July 24, 2023), the plaintiff was a long-term DOE employee who suffered from several disabling medical conditions, including COPD. In July 2019, she was moved to a dirty, windowless room where the air quality was so poor that even individuals without disabilities became sick.
It would not have been an undue burden for the DOE to move Felix to an office that would not exacerbate her COPD. However, the DOE refused to transfer her. For months, the DOE required Felix to work in that terrible environment, even after Felix presented doctors’ notes confirming her deteriorating health. Even worse, just days after Felix requested an accommodation, the DOE issue a “security alert” with a photo of Felix posted outside of DOE headquarters, creating the impression that Felix had been terminated and was not permitted in the DOE’s headquarters in downtown Manhattan. This malicious act was to punish Felix for requesting a reasonable accommodation.
Against this backdrop, the DOE made a motion to dismiss Felix’s case on summary judgment. We are pleased to report that the Court denied the DOE’s motion and set this case for trial. The Court held that what Felix endured was protected by the law, and that the damage Felix suffered to her health presented at least a triable question of fact as to whether Felix endured a hostile work environment.
This precedent should encourage employers to respond to reasonable requests for accommodation, rather than punishing employees who ask for assistance due to disabilities.