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  • Second Circuit Determines That Providing “Effective” Reasonable Accommodation is Sufficient to Defeat a Disability Discrimination Claim

    Throughout this year, the Second Circuit has considered many important issues. More recently, in Noll v. Int’l Bus. Machs. Corp., 13-cv-4096 (2d Cir. May 21, 2015),  it addressed the extent to which, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) and New York State law, an employee must be provided with the precise accommodation he or she requests. The court also considered whether, if the employer offers a different type of accommodation, its failure to interact further is enough to establish a disability discrimination claim.

    By way of brief background, in Noll, the plaintiff, who is deaf, worked as a software engineer for IBM. While employed there, he was provided with numerous accommodations, such as onsite and remote American Sign Language (“ASL”) interpreters, internet-based real-time transcriptions, and video replays services. Even with these accommodations, Noll complained about the delay in receipt of transcripts, which was usually five minutes or more. He also complained about the lack of on-screen translation of videos and, thus, requested that IBM provide intranet videos in captioned form and transcripts for all audio files. IBM allegedly declined these additional accommodations.

    Subsequently, Noll brought suit alleging that IBM’s failure to provide his requested accommodations amounted to disability discrimination under federal and New York State law. The district court granted IBM’s motion for summary judgment on the basis that IBM reasonably accommodated Noll by providing ASL interpreters. Noll appealed and the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of his claims.

    The Second Circuit determined that summary judgment for IBM was warranted because there was no genuine factual dispute about the effectiveness of the accommodations IBM provided. It reasoned that the ADA and New York State law only require an effective accommodation, not the most effective accommodation for each employee and there was no factual dispute about whether the translation services worked even though it might not have been as speedy as Noll desired. Ultimately, the court found the ADA and New York State law impose no liability for an employer’s failure to explore alternative accommodations where the ones provided were reasonable.

    However, it should be noted that this case was not decided pursuant to the New York City Human Rights law, which is generally more liberally construed and pro employee. As always, employers should ensure that their anti-discrimination policies are up to date in order to ensure compliance with both state and federal laws.

    If you or your institution has any questions or concerns regarding related employment issues, please contact Hayley B. Dryer at hdryer@cullenanddykman.com or at (516) 357 – 3745.

    Thank you to Lauren Dwarika, a law clerk at Cullen and Dykman LLP, for her assistance with this blog post.