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Sixth Circuit Offers Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation Notice

Mary Ellen Yanick worked for Kroger’s in Michigan for over 15 years. In 2018, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and shared that information with a supervisor. Later that same month, a new manager, Marli Schnepp, took over as Yanick's supervisor. Schnepp had issues with Yanick’s performance, which she discussed with Yanick. Yanick says Schnepp “badgered, criticized, and harassed her.” Yanick went out on medical leave for cancer treatment shortly after receiving discipline for her performance.

Yanick returned to work without restrictions after four months. Schnepp called Yanick into the office one week after her return because Yanick was not meeting expectations. Yanick said the 53 hours she worked her first week were "hard for [her] physically," and she "was struggling and needed some time to get back to normal." Schnepp told Yanick that Kroger's may discipline or fire her if her performance did not improve. Yanick stepped down and claimed Schnepp harassed her out of her position.

In an unpublished opinion, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals considered what constitutes a request for reasonable accommodation. It noted there is no "bright-line rule" for determining whether an employee has requested an accommodation. Employers must draw reasonable inferences from information shared by employees. In this case, a jury could reasonably conclude Yanick requested accommodation by sharing that she was struggling and needed time to return to normal. These comments connected to Yanick mentioning the job was hard for her physically. The meeting occurred just one week after Yanick had returned after undergoing surgery for breast cancer. According to the court, Kroger should have inferred Yanick was tired from her recent surgery. In conclusion, the court noted Yanick's comments did not constitute a model for an accommodation request. Still, she provided just enough information, "given their context," to raise a triable issue for a jury.