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Jacobsen v. New York City Health & Hosps. Corp.

Court of Appeals of New York

February 11, 2014, Argued; March 27, 2014, Decided

No. 34

Opinion

 [**161]  [***88]  [*827]  Abdus-Salaam, J.

The issue before us is whether, on a motion for summary judgment disposing of an employee's disability discrimination claims under the New York City Human Rights Law (see Administrative Code of City of NY § 8-107) and the New York State Human Rights Law   (see Executive Law § 296), an employer's failure to consider the reasonableness of a proposed accommodation for a generally qualified employee's disability via a good faith interactive process precludes the employer from obtaining summary judgment. In resolving this issue, we reiterate that ] the State Human Rights Law and the City Human Rights Law set forth distinct legal standards for establishing the existence of a covered disability that can be reasonably accommodated. Despite those differing standards, we conclude that both statutes generally  [****2] preclude summary judgment in favor of an employer where the employer has failed to demonstrate that it responded to a disabled employee's request for a [***89]  [**162]  particular accommodation by engaging in a good faith interactive process regarding the feasability of that accommodation.

In 1979, plaintiff William Jacobsen began his employment with defendant New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC). Plaintiff joined HHC as an assistant health facilities planner. In this role, roughly twice a week, plaintiff had to  [*828]  visit construction sites within the Manhattan area hospital network to which he was assigned. On those visits, plaintiff met with project directors, inspected the structures of HHC buildings and supervised the progress of HHC construction projects. For the rest of each week, plaintiff worked at HHC's central office at 346 Broadway in Manhattan, completing reports on the site visits and performing any other necessary office work. In 1982, plaintiff was promoted to health facilities planner and assigned to HHC's Bellevue network. Although plaintiff was assigned to larger projects, his responsibilities remained the same, and he continued to make site visits only once or twice  [****3] a week. In June 2005, plaintiff was diagnosed with a form of pulmonary dysfunction.

In August 2005, HHC reassigned plaintiff to its Queens hospital network, and he primarily oversaw projects at the Queens Hospital Center (QHC), where HHC was conducting extensive renovations and asbestos abatement. As a result of this transfer, plaintiff had to relocate his office to QHC and visit construction sites more frequently. Plaintiff could no longer visit the central office in Manhattan on a regular basis. In September 2005, plaintiff received a new diagnosis of pneumoconiosis, an occupational lung disease caused by repeated and prolonged inhalation of asbestos or other dust particles.

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22 N.Y.3d 824 *; 11 N.E.3d 159 **; 988 N.Y.S.2d 86 ***; 2014 N.Y. LEXIS 570 ****; 2014 NY Slip Op 2098; 29 Am. Disabilities Cas. (BNA) 794; 2014 WL 1237421

 [1]  William Jacobsen, Appellant, v New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, Respondent.

Prior History: Appeal, by permission of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the First Judicial Department, from an order of that Court, entered July 10, 2012. The Appellate Division affirmed an order of the Supreme Court, New York County (Geoffrey D. Wright, J.; op 2011 NY Slip Op 34073[U] [2011]), which had granted defendant's motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. The following question was certified by the Appellate Division: "Was the order of this Court, which affirmed the order of the Supreme Court, properly made?"

Jacobsen v New York City Health & Hosps. Corp., 97 AD3d 428, 948 NYS2d 586, 2012 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 5386 (N.Y. App. Div. 1st Dep't, 2012), modified.

Disposition:  [****1] Order modified, without costs, by reinstating the first and second causes of action in the complaint and, as so modified, affirmed, and certified question not answered as unnecessary.

CORE TERMS

disability, reasonable accommodation, accommodation, summary judgment, dust, respirator, central office, interactive process, mask, essential function, construction site, medical leave, summary judgment motion, good faith, respiratory, reassigning, impairment, site visit, Executive Law, exposure, exposed, return to work, matter of law, environmental, functions, lung, disability discrimination, burden of proof, cause of action, office work

Civil Procedure, Summary Judgment, Burdens of Proof, Movant Persuasion & Proof, Civil Rights Law, Protection of Rights, Protection of Disabled Persons, General Overview, Entitlement as Matter of Law, Appropriateness, Supporting Materials, Evidence, Burden Shifting, Nonmovant Persuasion & Proof, Ultimate Burden of Persuasion, Allocation, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Need for Trial, Appeals, Record on Appeal, Americans With Disabilities Act, Accommodations, Weight & Sufficiency