Court: Indefinite leave request may qualify as a reasonable accommodation

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Reasonable accommodation

Highlighting the reach of New York City’s human rights law, the state’s high court, in a recently released ruling, revived a case where an individual argued that he should not have been fired, despite requesting an indefinite leave from his job.

Guiseppe Romanello worked for 25 years, most recently as an executive, with the financial services firm Intesa Sanpaola. In early 2008, he was diagnosed with a series of mental disorders. When he came to the end of his mandated sick leave time under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, Romanello’s employer asked for a return date. When Romanello could not provide one, since he was still rehabilitating from his disorders, his employment was terminated.

His lawsuits under both city and state anti-discrimination laws were dismissed in the lower two state courts.

When analyzing requests for reasonable accommodations under both the Americans with Disabilities Act and most state laws, the employee has the burden of proving that his request is reasonable. In fact, the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s high court, found that state law operates in this fashion.

Under New York City’s more protective law, however, the Court of Appeals found that the burden remains on the city to prove that a request is unreasonable, even one as expansive as a request for indefinite leave. Thus, the case will return to the lower court for further proceedings.

“Contrary to the State (human rights law), it is the employer’s burden to prove undue hardship. And, the City HRL provides employers an affirmative defense if the employee cannot, with reasonable accommodation, ‘satisfy the essential requisites of the job,” the court stated, in an opinion dated October 10. “Thus, the employer, not the employee, has the ‘pleading obligation’ to prove that the employee “could not, with reasonable accommodation, satisfy the essential requisites of the job.”