In Reyazuddin v. Montgomery County MD, No. 14-1299 (4th Cir. June 15, 2015), the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a decision involving a state employee that is also important for federal employees who need reasonable accommodation due to sight impairment.

The court held that Montgomery County, Maryland violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 when it failed to transfer Reyazuddin, who is blind, to a new consolidated call center along with her sighted coworkers. The new software the county used in its call center was not accessible to blind employees because it used technology that screen reader software could not interpret. The county claimed that installing software that was accessible to the blind was too expensive.

The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s granting of summary judgment and found there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether Reyazuddin could perform the essential functions of a call center employee; whether the county reasonably accommodated her; and whether the county’s failure to accommodate her was excused due to an undue hardship. Reyazuddin showed that other employers were able to make similar software systems accessible to the blind. The county failed to offer any other accommodation or transfer to her.

The Fourth Circuit found that the district court erred when it accepted the opinion of the county’s expert, who disagreed with Reyazuddin’s expert regarding the cost of making the software accessible. The Fourth Circuit held that a disagreement among experts should not be decided at the summary judgment stage. The Fourth Circuit also found that the county’s undue hardship argument was based on its own budgeting decision for accommodations and that accepting this argument would effectively cede the legal determination to the employer who could budget $0 for accommodations and thereby avoid liability by arguing undue hardship. The court held that a genuine issue for trial remained on the county’s undue hardship defense which precluded summary judgment for the county.

The Fourth Circuit also found that a genuine issue remained as to whether Plaintiff could perform the essential job functions with a reasonable accommodation. The court noted the county disability program manager’s testimony that the plaintiff had the knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform the essential functions of the call center job.

* This information is provided by the attorneys at Passman & Kaplan, P.C.