Law School Case Brief
Vande Zande v. Wis. Dep't of Admin. - 44 F.3d 538 (7th Cir. 1995)
Generally, an employer is not required to accommodate a disability by allowing the disabled worker to work, by himself, without supervision, at home. An employer is not required to allow disabled workers to work at home, where their productivity inevitably would be greatly reduced.
Plaintiff Lori Vande Zande worked as a program assistant for the Housing Division ("Division") of defendant State of Wisconsin Department of Administration for three years, beginning in Jan. 1990. Her role involved preparing public information materials, planning meetings, interpreting regulations, typing, mailing, filing, and copying. In short, her tasks were of a clerical, secretarial, and administrative assistant character. At age 35, she was paralyzed from the waist down as a result of a tumor of the spinal cord. Her paralysis made her prone to develop pressure ulcers, treatment of which often required that she stay at home for several weeks. She requested to work full time at home and believed that she would be able to do so if the Division provided her with a desktop computer at home (though she already had a laptop). Her supervisor refused, and told her that he probably would have only 15 to 20 hours of work for her to do at home per week and that she would have to make up the difference between that and a full work week out of her sick leave or vacation leave. She was able to work all but 16.5 hours in the eight-week period; she took 16.5 hours of sick leave to make up the difference. As a result, she incurred no loss of income, but did lose sick leave that she could have carried forward indefinitely. In addition, the Division refused her request to lower the sink and the counter in the office's kitchenettes to 34 inches, the height convenient for a person in a wheelchair. Ultimately, Vande Zande filed a lawsuit in federal district court against the Division and others under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Vande Zande sought declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as compensatory damages. The Division argued that there was no duty of reasonable accommodation of pressure ulcers because they did not fit the statutory definition of a disability under the ADA. The United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin granted summary judgment in favor of the Division. Vande Zande appealed.
Did the court properly grant summary judgment in favor of the Division?
In affirming summary judgment in favor of the Division, the appellate court held that: (1) Vande Zande's pressure ulcers were a part of her disability and, therefore, were a part of what the State of Wisconsin had a duty to accommodate, but reasonably, (2) an employer was not required to accommodate a disability by allowing a disabled worker to work, by herself, without supervision, at home, and (3) an employer did not have a duty under the ADA to expend even modest amounts of money to bring about an absolute identity in working conditions between disabled and nondisabled workers. As for the sink request, the court held that the Division was willing to install a shelf 34 inches high in the kitchenette area on Vande Zande's floor. The court held that access to a particular sink, when access to an equivalent sink, conveniently located, was provided, was not a legal duty of an employer. The duty of reasonable accommodation was satisfied when the employer did what was necessary to enable the disabled employee to work in reasonable comfort.
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