DOGS – EMPLOYEE HAS NO RIGHT TO DOG AT WORK TO ‘ENHANCE’ EMPLOYEE JOB EXPERIENCE AND HAPPINESS
DOGS – EMPLOYEE HAS NO RIGHT TO DOG AT WORK TO ‘ENHANCE’
EMPLOYEE JOB EXPERIENCE AND HAPPINESS
The case is Hopman v. Union Pacific Railroad (“RR”). Hopman was a conductor on the RR and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”). He wanted the RR employer to agree that he could bring his “service animal,” a rottweiler, to work on the train as an accommodation. While Hopman could perform the essential functions of his job without the dog (“Atlas”), according to Hopman, Atlas would allow him to enjoy his work without the pain of PTSD and it would enhance his job performance. Hopman argued that as other RR employees were afforded that benefits and privileges of having joy at work (albeit without a dog), the RR employer should accommodate his request under the American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The RR did not go for it.
Because Hopman was able to perform the essential functions of the job without a dog, the RR argued that it was not required to accommodate Hopman’s requests. But, the case proceeded to trial where the jury returned a verdict in favor of Hopman. The RR appealed and the court reversed – no joy for Hopman. The appellate court analysis noted that there is a distinction between an accommodation that would enable an employee to perform the essential functions of the job (as required under the ADA) and an accommodation that provides an employee the same benefits and privileges of employment as similarly situated, non-disabled employees (i.e. Joy). Hopman admitted he could perform the essential functions of his RR job. So, the court analyzed the right to Joy at work, holding that freedom from mental or psychological pain at work is not a “benefit or privilege of employment” that warrants a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.
And, as the RR did not allow service animals “as a benefit and privilege of employment” to other employees and the RR did not provide employees the freedom to work without mental or psychological pain as a benefit and privilege of employment, Hopman was not entitled to an accommodation that modified the job for his “personal benefit,” and working without mental or psychological pain was a “personal benefit,” not entitled to ADA accommodation. As Hopman’s arguments then were that Atlas would “enhance” his job performance, the Court of Appeal held that this personal benefit (joy at work), is not relevant to the accommodation request.
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