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Trahan v. Wayfair: Employees’ Disabilities do not Prevent Termination

Published:  May 1, 2020

A new ruling from the federal appeals court for our jurisdiction (1st Circuit Court of Appeals) concluded that an employee could be terminated based upon repeated violations of the employer’s rules of conduct conducted prior to the disclosure of a disability and request for accommodation. The 1st Circuit Court found for the employer, Wayfair, reasoning that the employee, Trahan, only disclosed her disability after learning she would be terminated. Specifically, Trahan failed to disclose any disability during her tenure at Wayfair prior to that instance. It was not until after the conclusion of an investigation conducted by Human Resources that Trahan asked for an accommodation in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) asserting that her misconduct was in response to conditions at Wayfair which lead to her outbursts of inappropriate behavior.  

Following her termination, Trahan filed suit against Wayfair citing violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. More specifically, Trahan claimed Wayfair failed to engage in the interactive process and denied her accommodation requests. The Court disagreed and affirmed the U.S District Court’s summary judgment motion for Wayfair. Judge Bruce M. Selya wrote in his findings, “Where, as here, an accommodations request follows a fire able misconduct, it ordinarily should not be viewed as an accommodation proposal at all.” Judge Selya went on to conclude, “[g]iven the timing of the request, implementing them would have required forgiveness of her fire able misconduct and a fresh state at Wayfair. Nothing in the ADA demands that an employer accord an employee – even an employee with a disability – such a second chance.” The court further rejected the employee’s contention that the employer punished her more severely than non-disabled employees, finding the evidence to support such allegations was not comparable to her own situation. 

It is important for employers to remember to engage in the interactive process and to do so when they have been given notice of an employee’s disability, and to provide reasonable accommodations in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. That said, in light of this ruling, employers are able to continue with their discipline and termination decisions even after an employee discloses a disability as long as the decision was made prior to the disclosure, and the action would be same for an employee without a disability. 

If you have any questions regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act or any other employment questions, please contact the attorneys at Royal P.C.