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The Reasonable Accommodation Difference: The Effect of Applying the Burden Shifting Frameworks Developed Under Title VII in Disparate Treatment Cases to Claims Brought Under Title I of the Americans With Disabilities Act

Kevin W. Williams
Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law
Vol. 18, No. 1 (1997), pp. 98-160
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/24050393
Page Count: 63
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
The Reasonable Accommodation Difference: The Effect of Applying the Burden Shifting Frameworks Developed Under Title VII in Disparate Treatment Cases to Claims Brought Under Title I of the Americans With Disabilities Act
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Abstract

When examining disparate treatment employment discrimination claims, federal courts have remained steadfast in their adherence to the burden shifting framework developed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court in McDonnell-Douglas, Corp. v. Green, Texas Dept. of Community Affairs v. Burdine, and St. Mary's Honor Center v. Hicks. This framework is designed to enable the factfinder to ascertain whether the employer-defendant took adverse action against the employee-plaintiff based on one of the prohibited factors in the statute (e.g., race, color, religion, sex, or national origin), or whether the employer took such action for some reason wholly unrelated to these factors. A plurality of the Court recognized in Price-Waterhouse v. Hopkins, however, that this framework is inapplicable in cases where the evidence shows clearly that the employer relied, at least in part, on one of Title VII's prohibited factors in its decision to take adverse action against the employee. Since the enactment of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the question the courts must ask now is, "is employment discrimination on the basis of disability as defined in Title I of the ADA the same as discrimination under Title VII?" The author's answer is, "sometimes." This paper reexamines the Court's opinions in each of the above cases, followed by a discussion of Circuit Courts of Appeals decisions construing the ADA. The author argues that in cases where the plaintiff asserts that the employer failed to reasonably accommodate the employee's disability, a different scheme is necessary. As the plurality recognized in Price-Waterhouse, different circumstances necessitate different methods of proof. ADA reasonable accommodation cases are different from Title VII indirect proof, disparate treatment cases, and should be treated accordingly by the courts. This Article explains the "Reasonable Accommodation Difference," how the courts should treat it, and why.

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