Fedweek Legal

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reversed the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) final agency decision that it did not deny an electrician (the complainant) reasonable accommodation.In the complainant v. Bill Johnson, President and Chief Executive Officer, Tennessee Valley Authority, Agency, Appeal Nos. 0120093256, 0120111968, (February 20, 2015), the EEOC ordered the TVA to offer the complainant a position within his reasonable accommodations, waive a medical requirement that the complainant could not meet because of his disability, pay the complainant back pay with interest, conduct a supplemental investigation into compensatory damages and attorney fees, and consider taking disciplinary action against the responsible management officials.

The complainant alleged that he was denied reasonable accommodation for his total visual impairment in one eye. The complainant requested reasonable accommodation in the form of a waiver of a medical requirement of “binocular vision” or vision in both eyes, for his position. The complainant contended that the binocular vision requirement was unnecessary for his position, as it was only relevant to driving a commercial motor vehicle, and that he had never been required to drive a commercial motor vehicle while he served as an electrician at TVA.Moreover, the complainant contended that the medical requirement was not an essential function of his position.


In analyzing the denial of reasonable accommodation claim, the EEOC found that the complainant was clearly a person with a disability, as his visual impairment in one eye substantially limited a major life function: seeing.The EEOC found that the complainant was a “qualified individual with a disability,” or one who could satisfy the requisite skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of the position, and who with or without accommodation, could perform the essential functions of his position.The EEOC noted that both the complainant’s supervisor and the area manager stated that the complainant could perform the essential functions of his position.

Furthermore, the EEOC found that TVA failed to conduct the required “individualized assessment” of the complainant to determine whether he qualified for the position, and that there was nothing in the complainant’s visual impairment in one eye that disallowed the complainant from being able to serve in the position.Moreover, the EEOC found that driving a commercial motor vehicle was not an essential function of the electrician position, and so TVA waiving the medical requirement for the complainant would not pose an undue hardship on TVA.In sum, TVA determined that the agency illegally denied the complainant’s request for reasonable accommodation.

One take-away from this case is that there are no “magic words” which federal employees must say in order to officially request reasonable accommodations.A federalemployee only need inform an agency that he needs an adjustment or change at work for a reason related to a medical condition.

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