When Disabilities Collide, With Which One Do You Side?

25 Apr, 2012 Bob Wilson


So what happens when a woman cannot work because a co-worker is allergic to her paprika sniffing Service Dog? Well, for starters, the employer gets sued.

The city of Indianapolis is being sued by an employee who claims it refused to accommodate her service dog, which is specially trained to warn her of the presence of paprika. Emily Kysel, a former project development analyst with the Department of Code Enforcement, filed suit last week under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Kysel was diagnosed in 2005 with an allergy to paprika, a common spice used in many types of food. According to the lawsuit, it is a life threatening situation that can result in “severe allergic anaphylactic reactions”.  Even inhaling a minute amount can trigger a dangerous reaction. After the city's attempt to accommodate her by eliminating food from vending machines that contain paprika and other measures failed, Kysel learned of service dogs that could detect the substance from the city's ADA coordinator. She applied for permission to get the dog, which was granted by her employer. She purchased the service dog at a personal expense of $10,000 and the city granted her leave time to travel to Texas and train with it.

So far, so good.

But not so fast. On her very first day back at work, Kysel says she was told she would not be able to return with the dog again. It seems a co-worker was allergic to dogs. She claims that she offered to work in the public lobby or at home, but those offers were rejected. She apparently was told “she could either work without her service dog or remain on unpaid leave.”

OK, so to recap – woman has potentially fatal paprika allergy. City attempts to accommodate by restricting food in the facility. City tells her of service dog. City approves service dog. Woman buys service dog. City gives leave for service dog. Woman gets service dog. Co-worker is allergic. Service dog is canned on first day at work.

I am not unsympathetic to either side. As a child I suffered from a tremendous number of allergies, and endured some pretty miserable treatments (I was tested for 180 items, and the only thing I was not allergic to was the potato).  Fortunately I grew out of most of them by adulthood, but they are miserable to deal with. I make no judgment on the validity or merits of this woman's suit. I don't know all of the conditions or both sides of the story.

However, I am going to say something here that will no doubt piss someone off somewhere:

Despite all of our efforts to “make life fair”, it is not, and never will be. No amount of legislation devised by man will ever make it so.

I am not an opponent to reasonable accommodations. I think we should make logical efforts to allow people to live normal, productive lives. But this is a classic example of not being able to win for losing, with the employer footing the bill.

So what do we do when disabilities collide?

The most interesting part of the source article I referenced is the comments left by opposing camps in the accommodation wars. I suggest you take a few moments and peruse them. They are generally vicious and unsympathetic. The “pro-service dog” people and the “pro-dog allergy accommodation” people cannot seem to agree on who is right in this case.

Perhaps we should put them all in a room with rubber truncheons and let them come to a reasonable accommodation on their own. But alas, in a litigious world, that is not how it works, is it?

If John Q. Public can't agree, how does an employer navigate this minefield? It's enough to make some businesses want to move their workforce overseas. It has sometimes been referred to as “pick your least worst enemy”, in that you have to select the side you prefer to be sued by.

Again, I lack enough specifics to judge the merits in this particular case, as most of the available info is drawn from the court filing documents. But for employers everywhere the question remains:

When disability based interests collide, with which do you side?



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