In Stevens v. Rite Aid Corp., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 4985 (2d Cir. Mar. 21, 2017), the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Rite Aid did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) when it refused to accommodate, and ultimately terminated, a pharmacist who had requested not to administer injections due to a fear of needles.

In 2011, Rite Aid started requiring its pharmacists to perform immunizations. In fact, Rite Aid even revised its job description to require pharmacists to hold a valid immunization certificate and included a reference to immunizations in the list of “essential duties and responsibilities” for pharmacists.

Plaintiff, a pharmacist with a fear of needles (trypanophobia), obtained a note from his treating physician stating that he is “needle phobic and cannot administer immunization by injection.” Plaintiff further explained that his trypanophobia causes him to experience “lightheadedness, paleness, and a feeling that I may faint” and that, as a result he “would never even consider trying to become an immunizing pharmacist.” By doing this, Plaintiff was requesting that Rite Aid provide him with a reasonable accommodation for his disability (trypanophobia) under ADA.

In response, Rite Aid told Plaintiff that the ADA did not apply to trypanophobia, that Rite Aid was not required to accommodate him, and that Plaintiff would lose his job unless he successfully completed immunization training. Ultimately, Rite Aid terminated Plaintiff’s employment for refusing to perform immunizations, which it alleged was an essential function of his job. An employee is not qualified for protection under the ADA if he is unable to perform his job’s essential functions, with or without a reasonable accommodation.

After Plaintiff prevailed at trial, Rite Aid appealed the judgment to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which agreed with Rite Aid and held that the evidence “compels a finding that immunization injections were an essential job requirement for Rite Aid pharmacists at the time of [Plaintiff]’s termination.” Rite Aid’s in-house counsel even testified that Rite Aid terminated another pharmacist with needle phobia because, like Plaintiff, “he failed to undergo Rite Aid’s immunization training program, further demonstrating that the company deemed administering immunizations to be an essential function of its pharmacists.”

In addition, the Second Circuit found that Plaintiff failed to show that a reasonable accommodation even existed that would have enabled Plaintiff to perform the essential function of giving injections. The court further found that Rite Aid was not required to eliminate this essential function from Plaintiff’s position, nor was it required to force other employees to do it instead of Plaintiff.

According to the Second Circuit, “[i]t is understandable that the jury had sympathy for [Plaintiff], afflicted as he was with an unusual phobia. Nevertheless, his inability to perform an essential function of his job as a pharmacist is the only reasonable conclusion that could be drawn from the evidence.”

If you are a disabled employee and your employer recently denied your request for a reasonable accommodation, it’s important that you immediately consult with a New York City employment attorney to learn about, and preserve, all your legal rights.

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