Transfer For Medical Treatment Determined To Be A Reasonable Accommodation

In a case of first impression, a New Mexico court looked at whether a woman could sustain a case under the federal Rehabilitation Act after her employer denied her request to transfer her from her position in Texas to one in New Mexico to facilitate her medical treatment.

In Sanchez v. Vilsak, the Tenth Circuit appellate court determined that Sanchez’ employer must consider more than just if an accommodation is necessary to all a worker to perform essential job functions. Instead, it’s important that an employer consider if the request is “reasonable.” The court found that asking for a transfer in order to get medical treatment if in fact, a “reasonable accommodation” request under the Rehabilitation Act.

Specifically, Judge Carlos F. Lucero wrote: “Without resolving the reasonableness of a transfer accommodation in this particular case, we hold as a matter of law that transferring an employee for the purposes of treatment or therapy may be a reasonable accommodation under the Rehabilitation Act.”

The Rehabilitation Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act provide protections to certain qualified individuals and makes it illegal to discriminate against workers based on disabilities as described by the Act. Covered disabilities are those medical, physiological or psychiatric conditions that substantially limit a major life activity. If you have questions about the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act or believe that you may have suffered discrimination based on a disability, it is important to seek the advice of a knowledgeable Atlanta discrimination lawyer right away.

In the recent disability discrimination case, Clarice Sanchez requested a transfer to be closer to a medical facility to receive treatment after she lost the left half of her field of vision because of work place accident. Her employer said “no,” and asserted that federal disability discrimination laws don’t require an employer to transfer an employee solely for the purpose of obtaining medical treatment.

The employer also claimed that Sanchez could correct her vision impairment by simply “turning her head.” The court rejected these arguments and said that whether Sanchez’ vision difficulties met the requirements of a disability (i.e. does it substantially limit a major life activity?) under the Rehabilitation Act is a question that is best left for the jury.

This case is important because it expands the number of courts that have determined that transfers for medical treatment fall under the Rehabilitation Act’s intended coverage. Other federal circuits that have found a transfer request to be a reasonable accommodation include the 1st Circuit (covering Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico and Rhode Island). The 7th Circuit (covering Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin) and the 9th Circuit (Covering Alaska, Arizona California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington). The 11th Circuit, which includes Georgia, has not yet issued an opinion concerning medical treatment transfer requests.

For more information about disability discrimination or if you believe you may have been subjected to discrimination as the result of a disability, please contact the top Georgia disability discrimination lawyers at the law office of Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP for an immediate case evaluation.