On January 31, 2022, the New Hampshire Federal Court in the case of Leah Wallace v. NH Ball Bearings, Inc. granted summary judgment to the employer New Hampshire Ball Bearings, Inc. against the against the employee Leah Wallace so that she was unable to go to trial on her claims under the American With Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the New Hampshire law against discrimination, and wrongful termination.
Wallace applied for a position at New Hampshire Ball and was offered a position as a Teflon assembler on the first shift entry level at $14.60/hr. During her interview, Wallace noted she had a latex allergy and the employer responded that it could accommodate by allowing her to use non-latex gloves and to carry her EpiPen on the factory floor. Ms. Wallace later explained her concern of being in close proximity to other workers who wears latex gloves. The employer requested more information in relation to the effect of her disability in that it previously thought that it was a latex contact issue rather than also being sensitive to airborne allergens from latex. Ultimately, the Court in a 35-page decision granted summary judgment for the employer. It found that Wallace’s failure to provide sufficient detail of the parameters of her disability, especially when the employer already indicated its willingness to make some reasonable accommodations, precluded her from going to trial. By way of example, the Court noted that it was unknown whether or not Wallace could work in close proximity to co-worker’s sneakers that had latex.
The Court made it clear that it understood that latex allergies can certainly be a disability and that Wallace had a disability related to latex. It was her inability to provide the employer sufficient information for it to make an informed decision as to the scope of her disability that resulted in a ruling that she would not get to a trial on her claims.
Simply put, an employee has an obligation to inform its employer of the parameters of a claimed disability so that the employer and employee could then through an interactive process see if reasonable accommodations could be made to allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. The Court did not get to that analysis in that Wallace did not provide sufficient information for the employer to engage in the interactive process with Wallace to determine whether or not a reasonable accommodation could be made to permit her to perform the essential functions of her job.
J. Daniel Marr is a Director and Shareholder at Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A. His legal practice includes counseling businesses and individuals on a variety of legal issues and advocating on their behalf. Attorney Marr is licensed and practices in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Attorney Marr can be reached at [email protected].