REYAZUDDIN v. MONTGOMERY CO., MD., NO. 14-1299

Decided: June 15, 2015

The Fourth Circuit held that genuine issues of material fact remained with respect to (1) whether Reyazuddin could perform the essential functions of a call center employee, (2) whether the County reasonably accommodated her, and (3) whether any failure to accommodate could be excused by undue hardship.  Thus, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the County on Reyazuddin’s claims under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”).  The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the County on Reyazuddin’s claim under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“Title II”), finding that Title II does not apply to public employment discrimination.

In 2008, Montgomery County, Maryland (“County”) centralized the phones for 38 offices into one call center.  To operate the call center, County used software which could be operated in two modes: high-interactivity, which was not accessible to blind employees, and low-interactivity, which was accessible to blind employees.  The County chose to operate entirely in high-interactivity mode.

Reyazuddin, who is blind, had been employed since 2002 in County’s Department of Health and Human Services.  Prior to the creation of the call center, Reyazuddin used screen reader software and a Braille embosser to perform her job.  Following the conversion to the call center, Reyazuddin was not transferred to the center, but remained with the County doing various non-full-time work, albeit with the same salary and benefits as before.  A supervisor recommended her for priority reassignment in another vacant position with the County, and Reyazuddin applied for a call center vacancy, but did not get the position.  

Reyazuddin sued County under Section 504, claiming failure to accommodate her by not making the call center software accessible, and discrimination against her by not transferring her to the call center with her co-workers.  Reyazuddin also claimed County violated Title II by not hiring her to fill the call center vacancy.  Reyazuddin and County both moved for summary judgment.  The district court granted County’s motion, finding a genuine issue as to whether Reyazuddin could perform the essential job of call center operator, but finding that County had accommodated her by providing comparable employment.  The district court found for County as a matter of law on the defense of undue hardship.  On the issue of Reyazuddin not being transferred to the call center, the court found non-transfer was not discriminatory because accommodation would have been an undue hardship.  Finally, on the Title II claim, the court found that Reyazuddin presented insufficient evidence that the failure to hire her for the call center vacancy was pretext for discrimination.

On the failure to accommodate claim, the Fourth Circuit found that Reyazuddin qualified as disabled, and County had notice of her disability.  The court found, however, that it was unclear whether Reyazzudin could be reasonably accommodated.  Though she had the basic skills for a call center job, there were questions as to whether operating the center software in low-interactivity mode was less productive, and as to whether it was essential to a call center job to be able to operate the software in high-interactivity mode.  The court also found that there was a genuine question as to whether the non-full-time jobs County pieced together for Reyazuddin were a reasonable accommodation.  Finally, the Fourth Circuit found that the district court improperly reduced a multi-factor test for undue hardship to a single factor – cost – and improperly found for County on that basis on undue hardship.  On this basis, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to County on the failure to accommodate claim.  

On the disparate treatment claim, the Fourth Circuit found that Reyazuddin had a disability, but that there were genuine questions as to whether she was otherwise qualified for the job, and as to whether she suffered an adverse employment action.  The Fourth Circuit’s analysis of the second and third points followed its earlier analysis of Reyazuddin’s ability to perform essential job functions, and reasonable accommodation, respectively.  Further, following its earlier undue hardship analysis, the court found that a genuine issue existed with respect to whether the County had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for treating Reyazuddin differently.  On this basis, the court reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to County on the disparate treatment claim.  

Finally, the Fourth Circuit found that Title II did not apply to public employment discrimination claims.  The court made this finding on the basis of statutory language and structure.  For this reason, the court upheld the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the County on Reyazuddin’s Title II claim.

For the above reasons, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to County on the Section 504 claims, affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to County on the Title II claim, and remanded the case to the district court.  

Full Opinion

Katherine H. Flynn

 

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