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A Job Coach May Be Reasonable Accommodation


Paul Reina, a blind and legally deaf individual, worked for Walmart as a cart attendant for over 15 years. Walmart required cart attendants to maintain and organize shopping carts, load merchandise into cars, and use cart retrieval equipment. The company also identified customer service as part of the "essential functions" of the cart attendant position. Reina used full-time job coaches to help him perform his job, for which Medicaid covered the cost. Reina communicates through sign language, gestures, and facial expressions. When Jeff Scheurell became Reina's new manager, he decided to observe Reina at work. After watching Reina, Scheurell suspended Reina and asked Reina to submit new paperwork. Scheurell expressed concerns that the job coach was doing "90-95%" of Reina's job. Reina filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission  (EEOC) charge, and the EEOC sued Walmart.

The EEOC alleged Walmart violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by refusing to allow Reina to use a job coach and by ending Reina's employment. Walmart defended the action by claiming that Reina could not perform the "essential functions" of his position and that a full-time job coach could never be a reasonable accommodation.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case upon appeal after a jury reached a verdict against Walmart. The court said, "whether certain functions are essential functions" within the meaning of the ADA is a question of fact for the jury to decide. The jury also considered how much Reina's job coaches helped him perform his job. The job coaches testified at trial that they offered limited assistance to Reina. The court found a reasonable jury could, and did, conclude that Reina was able to perform the "essential functions" of his job with limited assistance. Walmart asked the court to find that "permanent full-time job coaches are never reasonable accommodations." The court held that if the employee can perform the "essential functions" with the accommodation, a company must conduct a case-by-case determination to assess whether the accommodation was reasonable.