By: Jim Cline & Harrison Owens
In Raiford v. Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, a Maryland District Court dismissed a former Resident Advisor Trainee’s failure-to-accommodate and constructive discharge claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In his complaint, the resident adviser claimed that he was constructively discharged and his employer failed to accommodate him after he suffered a knee injury that prevented him from physically restraining detainees. The District Court found that detainee supervision and physical restraint were essential job functions, there was no vacant position available, his requested accommodation of permanent light-duty work was not reasonable, and he did not show that the Department forced him to resign.
Gregory Raiford was employed as a Resident Advisor Trainee with the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services at the Cheltenham Youth Facility. Resident Advisors at such facilities are primarily responsible for providing direct care and supervision of the Department’s detained offenders. Raiford injured his knee while separating youths during a fight. He was moved to light duty that did not involve contact with juveniles. Raiford was scheduled to undergo surgery and his doctor stated that he would require two and a half to three months of rehabilitation after the surgery.
Following Raiford’s surgery, the Department allowed Raiford to receive accident leave for several months. Raiford’s doctor recommended that he be put on light duty and not be involved in ending any altercations. The Department was unable to accommodate his requested light duty and granted him additional accident leave. The Department required Raiford to undergo a workability evaluation, and sent him a letter notifying him of the evaluation and listing the essential duties of his Resident Advisor Trainee position.
Following the evaluation, the Department’s doctor stated that Raiford was unable to perform the essential duties of his position with or without reasonable accommodations. The Department subsequently advised Raiford that he could resign, explore other vacant positions with the Department, participate in a career assessment and development program, or participate in the Career Reinvestment Program. Raiford notified the Department that he was resigning as a Resident Advisor Trainee and signed an acknowledgement that he was no longer qualified to continue in his current position.
Raiford filed a lawsuit against the Department for violations of the ADA. He alleged that the Department had failed to accommodate his disability which violated the ADA’s prohibitions against disability discrimination. He also argued that he had been constructively discharged
The District Court disagreed, and dismissed all of Raiford’s claims. To have a valid claim of failure to accommodate, Raiford had to show that he was discriminated against based on his disability and that he would have been able to perform the essential functions of his position with a reasonable accommodation. The Court found that Raiford could not perform the essential functions of his position, as his knee injury prevented him from intervening in verbal and physical situations that arose between inmates. Also, the Court found that Raiford did not show that reasonable accommodations existed or would assist him in performing the essential functions of his job. Therefore, the Court dismissed Raiford’s claim of failure to accommodate.
The Court next examined Raiford’s claim that he was constructively discharged. To have a valid claim, Raiford needed to show that he was subjected to intolerable working conditions and a deliberate effort by the Department to force him to quit. The Court found that Raiford did not have a valid constructive discharge claim, as he did not have evidence that the Department intentionally tried to force him out of his position. The Department actually provided several options for Raiford to pursue to continue working for the Department, but he chose not to. Therefore, the Court dismissed Raiford’s claim of constructive discharge.
Where an employee cannot perform the essential functions of his job even with an accommodation, he is not a “qualified” employee and has no valid failure to accommodate claim.
Constructive discharge is a legal fiction that stands for the proposition that even though the employer did not directly fire the employee, the employer deliberately made the employee’s working conditions so intolerable that he had to quit. The intolerable conditions must be such that it would cause a reasonable person in the employee’s position to quit. If the employee can sustain a constructive discharge claim along with a valid failure to accommodate claim, the employee could recover past and future lost wages as well as emotional distress damages and attorney fees.