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Solo and Small Firm

The Practitioner Fall 2017, Volume 23, Issue 4

MCLE Article: A Law Firm’s Legal Duty to Provide Reasonable Accommodation to Attorneys with Disabilities

By Kevin M. Rivera

Kevin Rivera is the principal and founder of Rivera Employment Law, based in Los Angeles. He advises employers in all aspects of employment law, and conducts investigations of workplace complaints. He is a former Am Law 100 attorney, with over 10 years of experience representing employers of all sizes and across industries. He can be reached at kevin@riveraemploymentlaw.com or through www. riveraemploymentlaw.com.

(Check the end of this Article for information about how to access 1.0 self-study bias credits.)

Law firms in California with five or more employees have an affirmative legal duty to provide reasonable accommodation to their attorneys and other employees with physical or mental disabilities unless doing so would cause undue hardship. This affirmative duty arises from state and federal law and furthers the important public policy of lifting barriers to employment faced by attorneys with disabilities. According to data the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has provided, 32.6% of all EEOC claims filed in California in 2016 were based on disability, surpassing the number of claims filed based on any other protected characteristic, such as race, sex, color, religion, national origin, or age.1 Similarly, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) reported that the majority of employment-based discrimination claims it received in 2016 were based on disability.2 This is not surprising given how complex the law is on accommodating individuals with disabilities. While attorneys with disabilities may require accommodations similar to those required by employees in other business environments, the law firm setting can pose unique challenges not faced in other settings, such as billable hours requirements, heavy caseloads, and the ability to work under extreme pressure. This article reviews the legal framework for a law firm’s duty to provide reasonable accommodation, and discusses the ways in which firms can meet this obligation for their attorneys with disabilities.

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