By Sarah Walton
On June 15, 2015, the Fourth Circuit issued a published opinion in the civil case of Reyazuddin v. Montgomery Cnty., Maryland. The Fourth Circuit held that genuine disputes of material fact precluded summary judgment for Montgomery County on the plaintiff’s failure to accommodate and disparate treatment claims. The court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Montgomery County on the plaintiff’s Title II claim.
Origins of the Dispute
Plaintiff Yasmin Reyazuddin (“Reyazuddin”) worked for Montgomery County’s Department of Health and Human Services. Reyazuddin, who is blind, assisted individuals who were looking for information about the department’s services. In October 2009, Montgomery County informed Reyazuddin’s unit that they would be moving to a new worksite. The new worksite did not have the technology necessary for Reyazuddin to perform all aspects of her job. Reyazuddin expressed this concern to her supervisor and subsequently left for vacation. When Reyazuddin returned, her coworkers had already transferred to the new location. Reyazuddin was eventually transferred to the Montgomery County Aging and Disability Unit, but her managers were unable to give her steady work. Ultimately, Reyazuddin’s manager informed her that she would not receive a transfer to the new worksite because the required software was too expensive. When Montgomery County announced that it was hiring an employee at the new worksite, Reyazuddin submitted her application. Ultimately, Montgomery County hired another applicant.
The District Court Granted Summary Judgment for Montgomery County
Reyazuddin filed a complaint against Montgomery County, which alleged that Montgomery County violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act when it: (1) failed to accommodate her disability at the new worksite, and (2) discriminated against her when it refused to transfer her to the new worksite. Reyazuddin also alleged that Montgomery County violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by failing to hire her for the vacant position. On the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court granted Montgomery County’s motion on all of Reyazuddin’s claims.
The Fourth Circuit Reversed on the Failure to Accommodate Claim
The parties disagreed about the following aspects of Reyazuddin’s failure to accommodate claim: (1) whether Reyazuddin proposed a reasonable accommodation that would allow her to perform the essential functions of her job, (2) whether Reyazuddin’s current employment at the Aging and Disability Unit was comparable to her prior responsibilities, and (3) whether the proposed accommodation constituted an undue hardship on Montgomery County.
The Fourth Circuit rejected Montgomery County’s argument that Reyazuddin’s proposed accommodation would not allow her to perform the essential functions of her job. The court relied on testimony indicating that Reyazuddin could perform the position’s essential functions with an accommodation. Further, the Fourth Circuit determined that Reyazuddin’s current employment arrangements did not provide enough work for a full-time position, which made it incomparable to Reyazuddin’s prior position. As a result, the court determined that there were genuine issues of material fact regarding Reyazuddin’s proposed accommodation and Montgomery County’s comparable accommodations.
The Fourth Circuit also rejected the district court’s reasoning that the cost of installing the necessary computer software created an undue hardship on Montgomery County. The court reasoned that the cost of alternate computer software should have been balanced against other factors to determine whether it constituted an undue hardship. Consequently, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Montgomery County on the failure to accommodate claim.
The Fourth Circuit Reversed on the Disparate Treatment Claim
The district court concluded that because Reyazuddin’s accommodation was an undue hardship on Montgomery County, they had a nondiscriminatory reason for failing to transfer her to the new worksite. The Fourth Circuit reasoned that because the district court did not properly balance the factors for the undue hardship test, it could not rely upon the undue hardship analysis for the disparate treatment claim. As a result, the Fourth Circuit held that there were genuine issues of material fact on this claim and reversed the district court’s ruling.
The Fourth Circuit Affirmed the District Court’s Determination on the Title II Claim
The Fourth Circuit noted that there was a circuit split on whether plaintiffs could bring a claim under Title II for discrimination in public employment. Ultimately, the Fourth Circuit adopted the majority view and held that Title II applied to an entity’s services to the public, rather than to its interactions with employees. As a result, plaintiffs who work in the public sector cannot bring a claim for discrimination under Title II. Consequently, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding on the Title II claim.
The Fourth Circuit Affirmed in Part, Reverses in Part, and Remands for Further Proceedings
The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Montgomery County on the failure to accommodate and disparate treatment claims and affirmed the district court’s decision on the Title II claim.