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Employer’s Genuine Effort to Accommodate Dooms Employee’s Case

James Sharbono worked as a journeyman for Northern States Power Company. Before he began working for the company, he suffered an injury to his left foot that required the amputation of several of his toes and reconstruction of his foot. One consequence of this injury was that he was no longer able to wear steel-toed boots. Northern had a policy requiring individuals in Mr. Sharbono’s job to wear that type of boots, however, an exception was allowed for medical reasons.
At some point during Mr. Sharbono’s employment, the exception to the policy was eliminated. In an effort to address Mr. Sharbono’s issues, the company hired a disability consultant to come up with ways he might be able to wear the boots. He tried wearing the required boots but they were too painful. He began to use sick leave to cover absences of work and then transitioned into intermittent FMLA. He made a formal request for accommodation but the company denied the request because it could not “eliminate the potential foot hazards that are present in the daily work of a lineman.” The company did offer to help him find another job within the company and advised him he was eligible for “disability retirement benefits” at 50% of his current compensation. He chose to retire. The company still tried to find a boot he could wear that would be compliant but was unsuccessful.
Mr. Sharbono lost his subsequent suit both at the federal district level and in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. The appellate court noted that the company had met with Mr. Sharbono twice about accommodation and offered to help him find another job. Even after he retired, the company still tried to find a solution. As a matter of law, the record was clear that the company had interacted in good faith.