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Pharmacist’s request for service dog accommodation wasn’t reasonable, 8th Circuit rules

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Dive Brief:

  • The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday reversed a decision by a Missouri district court in favor of a pharmacist who requested to bring a service dog to work as an Americans with Disabilities Act accommodation for her Type 1 diabetes. The former employee had requested to bring the dog into nonsterile areas of the pharmacy at Bothwell Regional Health Center in Sedalia, Missouri, where she worked, to help detect when her blood sugar levels dropped, but was denied because managers and medical staff determined doing so would be “a risk to the safety of [her] patients,” per court documents. 
  • After a four-day jury trial, the jury awarded the pharmacist $111,549 in compensatory damages and $18,451 in emotional damages, and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri ruled “there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find that [the worker] had established the elements of her claim,” per the judgment. 
  • The appeals court reversed that decision, saying the pharmacist “had performed the essential functions of her position at the pharmacy without a service dog to Bothwell’s satisfaction” and was not being denied “equal benefits and privileges of employment” by not having a service dog on site.

Dive Insight:

The ADA requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations to workers with disabilities, unless those accommodations would cause undue hardship for the company. “A reasonable accommodation allows an employee with a disability an equal opportunity to enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment that employees without disabilities enjoy,” per U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance. 

The appeals court said denying the request for a service dog didn’t prohibit the pharmacist from receiving any benefits or privileges other workers enjoyed. 

The court also noted that the pharmacist had declined to work with her employer to determine alternative accommodations for her condition. “She would not accept any accommodation other than bringing her service dog into the pharmacy,” court documents said. Per the EEOC guidance, an employer is able to choose a “less expensive or burdensome accommodation as long as it is effective.” 

Accommodating service animals in the workplace can create a number of complicated situations for managers, panelists at a June 2021 U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission employment law conference said. Typically, however, service animals are only prohibited as a reasonable accommodation when they would be a threat to the safety of those around them, such as in a sterile area not open to the public, one panelist said.

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