Jury finds hotel failed to reasonably accommodate employee’s disability, awards $20 million punitive damages.
Reminders of the consequences of failing to accommodate employees’ disabilities can be helpful. Often workplaces can get lackadaisical in failing to follow accommodation laws leading to employees’ inability to adapt to their work tasks after becoming injured or disabled. In one case this type of lax attitude has proven severely costly, $20 million in damages to be precise. Daniel J. Callahan v. Marriott Marquis Hotel et al. is one such case study.
After having been employed as a concierge at a Marriott hotel for almost three decades, Callahan suffered a spinal injury in 2014. When he was finally able to return to work the following year with the aid of a prosthetic and cane, his employer initially accommodated him with a suitable chair. This preliminary workplace modification eventually led to one disappointment after another that included:
- A request to park his car closer to the hotel was labeled as a privilege by Marriott; Callahan was ultimately charged $275 per month for a closer parking spot;
- The hotel’s response to his appeal for a separate break room (since restaurants and the employee café were too far for him) was to provide him with a packed storage area with little space for movement and which was also an unreasonable distance from his work area and restroom;
- After the hotel remodeled in 2018, even more difficulties for Callahan arose: the new desks and mats were not amenable to the disabled and neither was the new design of the hotel floor plan that had the breakroom and restrooms at a further distance than before.
After Callahan’s accommodation requests were repeatedly ignored, his doctor recommended that his current situation was physically detrimental to the point that he could no longer continue working in that position.
The jury’s response to Marriott’s disregard? It found that the hotel giant had failed to engage in an interactive process and to provide reasonable accommodation to Callahan, violating California’s disability laws. It awarded him $3.4 million in past non-economic damages, $1.6 million in future loss of enjoyment of life, and $15 million in punitive damages.
As an employer, it is important to recognize when employees need accommodation and how best to go about handling their individual situations. If you have any questions about California’s accommodation laws in general or how best to handle a specific disability case, please contact Rosasco Law Group, APC and we can help you avoid any pitfalls that may come your way.