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Second Circuit Dismisses ADA Claim Brought by Employee with Needlephobia

On March 21, 2017, the Second Circuit held that Rite Aid could not reasonably accommodate a pharmacist’s fear of needles.  In Stevens v. Rite Aid Corporation, No. 15277, the panel dismissed Stevens’ claims of wrongful termination, retaliation and failure to accommodate under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”), finding that he was unable to perform the essential functions of his job with or without accommodation.  In doing so, the court overturned a jury verdict that awarded him $2.6 million.  

Rite Aid had implemented a vaccination certification policy for its pharmacists after Stevens’ had been working for the company for 34 years.  Stevens submitted medical documentation stating that he had trypanophobia, which caused him to faint or otherwise become sick in the presence of needles, and asked for an accommodation.  Although Rite Aid considered his request, it ultimately terminated Stevens for failure to complete the vaccination training.  Stevens filed suit against Rite Aid, and a jury awarded Stevens $2.6 million in damages at trial.

On appeal the Second Circuit analyzed whether Rite Aid was obligated to accommodate Stevens’ phobia of needles.  The court concluded that “[a] reasonable accommodation can never involve the elimination of an essential function of a job.”  The court determined that the company was allowed to include vaccinations as one of the job’s essential functions, and thus, was allowed to terminate an employee for the inability to meet that function.

The panel rejected the accommodations that Stevens had requested.  Although Stevens had argued that Rite Aid could have provided desensitization therapy, the court determined that providing medical treatment does not constitute a reasonable accommodation.  

Employer Tip Whenever an employer has notice that an employee may have a potential disability or medical condition, best practices is to engage in the interactive process.  The Rite Aid decision shows that the interactive process may reveal that an employee may not be able to perform an essential job duty even with an accommodation.  In that instance, the employer may not be liable for its inability to accommodate the employees.  To further protect against claims of failure to accommodate, it is important for employers to identify essential functions of each position, create written job descriptions and ensure that they are uniformly implemented.

© Copyright 2018 Sills Cummis & Gross P.C.

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About this Author

David I. Rosen, Sills Cummis Gross, Wrongful Dismissal Lawyer, Labor Arbitration Attorney
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David I. Rosen has practiced labor and employment law on behalf of management clients since 1977. He handles employment litigation in the federal and state courts, before administrative agencies and through arbitration and mediation, and has broad experience with wrongful dismissal and employment discrimination claims, having successfully defended employers following jury and bench trials. His litigation experience extends to the enforcement and defense of restrictive covenants, NLRB unfair labor practice trials and appellate advocacy. Mr. Rosen also represents employers in labor...

(973) 643-5558
Galit Kierkut, Employment Litigation Attorney, Sills Cummis Gross, Social Media Matters Lawyer
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Galit Kierkut concentrates her practice on employment litigation and counseling. She conducts human resources audits, performs management and employee training in all areas, including sexual harassment, social media and electronic communications use, and counsels clients regarding compliance with state and federal employment laws, including discrimination laws, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), family and medical leave, and the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act. She also reviews and drafts employee handbooks, social media policies and employment contracts, including restrictive covenants and severance agreements. Her employment litigation practice is primarily focused on resolving claims in the areas of discrimination, sexual harassment, restrictive covenants, whistleblowing and employment contract disputes in state and federal courts and before the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

973-643-5896