Jeanette Colwell worked for Rite Aid as a clerk, working a varied schedule that included frequent evening shifts. Eventually, due to a medical condition, Colwell became blind in one eye. Her doctor advised her to refrain from driving at night for safety reasons. Colwell requested that she be scheduled only for day shifts, as there was no bus service after 6:00 p.m. and no taxis were available in the area.

Rite Aid refused this request for an accommodation. Colwell’s manager claimed that it “wouldn’t be fair” to the other workers. Colwell had her grandson pick her up from work for a period of time thereafter and tried unsuccessfully to discuss the matter further with Rite Aid. Eventually, Colwell resigned and then sued Rite Aid for failure to accommodate her disability.

In court the company took the position that Colwell was asking for help with a “commuting problem unrelated to the workplace” which was not covered by the ADA, rather than requesting a workplace accommodation that would enable her to perform her job once she arrived at the worksite.

The Third Circuit rejected Rite Aid’s position, holding unequivocally that changing Colwell’s working schedule to day shifts in order to alleviate her disability-related difficulties in getting to work is a type of accommodation that the ADA covers.

According to the Court, the statute specifically contemplates workplace accessibility and modified work schedules. “Thus, the ADA does not strictly limit the breadth of reasonable accommodations to address only those problems that an employee has in performing her work that arise once she arrives at the workplace.”

In closing, the Court noted that it was for a jury to decide whether a shift change was a reasonable accommodation under the circumstances or would have imposed an undue hardship on the operation of Rite Aid’s business. (We note that this would be a difficult burden for a large corporation to establish, and suspect that settlement talks followed the announcement of the Court’s opinion in favor of Colwell on this issue.)
Colwell v. Rite Aid Corp. (3rd Cir. April 8, 2010).

For more information about ADA and FMLA, please read our Reed Group FMLA Update.

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