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Pharmacist Afraid of Needles Proceeds on Accommodation Claim

In April 2016, Wal-Mart stores began to require that all pharmacy employees be certified in administering immunizations. William Noel suffered from trypanophobia (fear of needles) and he sought an exemption from the requirement. Wal-Mart responded via letter in July 2016 that it would accommodate him as it was not an essential function of his job. The letter did include a caveat should changes occur to his job description, further review may occur. Noel’s job description did not change following the receipt of the letter. However, a couple of months later he was notified that he needed to be certified to continue his job. Noel declined to do so and lost his position.
After his case was dismissed by the district court, Noel appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The case was brought under a state law that is significantly similar to the requirements under the ADA. At issue before the court was whether administering injections was an essential function of Noel’s job. “[C]ourts must conduct a ‘fact-specific inquiry into both the employer’s description of a job and how the job is actually performed in practice.’” For the case before it, the facts were: Wal-Mart wanted to ensure customers could receive immunization services at all stores, the April announcement of the program was referred to as a “minimum qualification,” in November it became identified as an “essential function” of the pharmacist position, and in Noel’s July letter it was not considered an essential function of his position. These facts tended to show Noel’s job description at the end of his employment had not yet changed and that administering vaccinations was not an essential function of his position. For these reasons, Noel’s case will proceed.