The EEOC filed suit against CRST Expedited, Inc., a national trucking company, on behalf of a United States military service veteran when the company based its hiring decision on the request of use of a service dog.
Leon Laferriere was prescribed an emotional support dog to help him cope with his post-traumatic stress and mood disorders after serving in the United States military. In May 2015, he applied for a position of a truck driver with CRST in Fort Myers.
As part of the truck driver program with CRST, applicants who have no experience must first attend driving school to earn their commercial driver’s license. Once they have obtained their license, and completed orientation, the applicant must drive with a more experienced lead driver to complete on-the-road training.
Because Laferriere was not an experienced truck driver and did not have a commercial driver’s license, he first had to complete driving school and the initial orientation. After successfully completing this first part of the training program, CRST issued him a conditional offer of employment based on the completion of the on-the-road portion. However, before advancing to this stage of training, CRST told Laferriere he could not continue to the on-the-road program due to their “no pet” policy. Although the EEOC alleges that CRST developed a new “Service Dog Process” around the same time as Laferriere’s request for accommodation, both Laferriere’s request and employment opportunity with the company were denied.
This lawsuit was subsequently filed by the EEOC alleging that CRST engaged in unlawful employment practices by denying Laferriere reasonable accommodation for his disability in violation of Title I of the ADA. CRST stated that an accommodation had been made when a plan was established for Laferriere to conduct his on-the-road training with his brother, an experienced truck driver. It was once his brother decided not to work for the company that those plans for accommodation fell through.
An employee’s or applicant’s requests of use of a service animal as a disability accommodation can prove daunting to an employer. Service animals in the workplace require special considerations relative to other employees who might be allergic and to the care of the animal as well. That said, service animals are often found to be a reasonable accommodation for some disabilities. It seems that the situation in this case, where the applicant would be primarily working alone after training, would be ideal for the use of a service animal. Employers should rarely immediately discount any requested accommodation and all denials should be well documented with evidence of the hardship to the employer that the accommodation would cause.