Job Coach May Be A “Reasonable Accommodation”

March 31, 2006

Home Depot recently agreed to settle an employment dispute with a developmentally disabled worker, Carolyn Pisani, who claimed her firing was discriminatory because Home Depot did not first communicate with her job coach about attendance problems. Pisani, because of her disability, had a job coach who monitored her job performance and regularly interfaced with her supervisors regarding performance feedback.

Several months into her employment, Pisani failed to report to work as scheduled on three consecutive weekends and was fired. However, Pisani claimed that someone saying they were a Home Depot manager—possibly a prank caller—telephoned her home and told Pisani not to report to work on the days she was absent. According to the EEOC, Home Depot knew of Pisani’s claim regarding these calls when they terminated her.

Pisani filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“the ADA”) and the EEOC subsequently intervened. The EEOC and Home Depot signed a consent decree which required Home Deport to pay Pisani $75,000 and also obligated the Company to notify and train all employees on a new “Working with a Job Coach” policy. In deciding to settle the case, it is likely Home Depot considered the fact that the law is somewhat unclear on whether a job coach is a “reasonable accommodation” when offered at no cost to the employer, as well as the fact that Home Depot’s policy on job coaching was not followed at the store where Pisani worked.

Employers should take note of this case and ensure job coach policies are properly implemented, communicated, monitored, and enforced. For more information on supported employment services that may be available through various Texas agencies, see the websites for the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, and the Texas Department of State Health Services.

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