Employee’s failure-to-accommodate claims properly dismissed given employee refused to provide supporting medical documentation

Delaval v. PTech Drilling Tubulars, L.L.C. No. 15-20471 (5th Cir.- June 3rd 2016)

This is an Americans with Disabilities Act case where the 5th Circuit affirmed the granting of the employer’s summary judgment.

While not a government case, the standards utilized apply equally to governmental and non-governmental employers. Danny Delaval was a manual machinist for PTech. Delaval told his supervisor that his health was suffering and that he needed to undergo medical testing on a specific day. Delaval did not return to work for a week. When asked for supporting information from a doctor to justify the absence, Delaval did not produce any support. PTech fired Delaval for violating its attendance policy.  Delaval filed an ADA and age discrimination claims as well as a failure-to-accommodate claim. The trial court granted PTech’s summary judgment as to the both discrimination claims, then sua sponte dismissed the failure-to-accommodate claim.

In response to a motion for summary judgment, an employee must present “substantial evidence” that the employer’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for termination is pretextual. Delaval does not contend he was treated differently than any other employee. Further, the dispute as to whether he was in contact with any supervisors during his week-long absence does not address that the reason for terminating him was pretextual. As a result, summary judgment was proper as to the discrimination claims. Next, the court held a trial court can sua sponte rule on an issue as long as harm does not result from a lack of notice. Delaval did not describe any additional evidence that should have been considered by the district court or explain why additional discovery was necessary. Accordingly, the district court’s failure to provide notice was harmless. On the merits of the failure-to-accommodate, time off, whether paid or unpaid, can be a reasonable accommodation, but an employer is not required to provide a disabled employee with indefinite leave. EEOC guidelines provide that “[a]n employer may require an employee to provide documentation . . . sufficient to substantiate” the limitation that allegedly requires an accommodation. “[T]he employer need not take the employee’s word for it that [he] . . . has an illness that may require special accommodation.” Where an employee refuses to provide such documentation, he causes a breakdown in the interactive process that can preclude an employer’s liability. In sum, PTech was acting lawfully in asking Delaval to turn over documentation corroborating his contention that he was undergoing medical testing during his week-long absence. His failure to do so is justification for the trial court dismissing his claim.

To read the opinion click here. Panel consists of Judges King, Southwick and Haynes. Judge Southwick wrote the opinion. Attorney for Appellant is David Charles Holmes, attorney for Appellee is Steven Franklin Griffith, Jr.