In? a? highly? anticipated? ruling,? the? Supreme Court attempted to clarify what it meant in Hill v. BCTI when it held that a plaintiff must show that any proposed accommodation was ?medically necessary.? While the Court?s unanimous opinion rejected the most extreme version of what medically necessary could have meant, the opinion leaves matters not much clearer than before.
The plaintiff worked for the employer for seven years until his termination.? ?The Company refused to rehire him. He suffered from PTSD. He ?alleged ?failure? to ?accommodate ?and disparate treatment.?? The trial court dismissed both claims.?? The court of appeals reversed on the disparate treatment claim but affirmed the dismissal on the reasonable accommodation claim, on the basis that the employee had failed to show his proposed accommodation was medically necessary. ?Judge Ellington dissented on the medical necessity issue.?? The Supreme Court granted review and affirmed the court of appeals. Justice Owens framed the issue as whether the employer had to accommodate the plaintiff more than it already had, absent proof that further accommodation was medically necessary.? ?The court held that ?if challenged, the employee must come forward at summary judgment or trial with competent evidence establishing a nexus between the disability and need for accommodation.? ?The court stated that this element was largely but not entirely subsumed in the Pulcino definition of disability.
The opinion contains language that will please employees and language that will please employers.? ?Ultimately, the opinion focused on the wrong issue, as the required nexus is between the accommodation and the workplace limitations caused by the medical condition, not the medical condition itself. ?In the process, the court seems to set a higher standard for accommodating ?non- obvious?? disabilities.?? ?While? it? makes? sense? to have a higher ?notice? threshold for non-obvious disabilities, it makes no sense to have a different standard for accommodation. Only time will tell what impact Riehl will ultimately have on Washington reasonable accommodation law.
While the court reached the ?right result? on the disparate treatment issue, its opinion illustrates the continuing confusion as to the interaction between the McDonnell Douglas-Burdine framework and the WLAD?s substantial factor causation requirement.?? ?While? recent? federal? law? in? the wake of the Costa interpreting the interaction between Mc Donnell Douglas and the ?a motivating factor? causation standard decision is helpful to a degree, it is important to remember there is no ?same action? defense under the WLAD.?? ?Riehl v. Foodmaker Inc., 73902-1 (7/22/04).