On July 31, 2019, in the case of Nano Nagle School v Daly, the Supreme Court of Ireland delivered its decision in a long-running disability discrimination lawsuit between a paraplegic special needs assistant ("SNA") and the school that ended her employment based on her disability. The Court's decision provides a thoughtful analysis of an employer's obligations to accommodate a disability and an interesting comparison to the approach under American law.
In 1998, Marie Daly began working as an SNA for the Nano Nagle School in Killarney, a school for children with special needs. SNAs are tasked with assisting teachers with various non-teaching functions, such as tidying the classroom, supervising students, escorting students to and from the classroom, and assisting students with using the bathroom, eating, and undressing.
In 2010, a car accident left Ms. Daly paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair. After the accident, she met with the school's occupational therapist, who performed an assessment of the tasks that Ms. Daly could perform on the job. The therapist determined that she would only be able to perform nine out of the sixteen duties identified for the SNA position, and noted her concern that Ms. Daly's restriction to a wheelchair made her vulnerable when a student was "acting-out."
After considering the report, but without consulting Ms. Daly, the school's principal determined that Ms. Daly would be unable to return to her position. Although the report noted that Ms. Daly could be suitable as a "floating SNA" (in which she would work in multiple classrooms and only on certain tasks), the principal found that no such position existed, and, based on a phone call to the school's funding body, determined that such a position would not be funded.
In 2013, Ms. Daly's claims were first heard by an Equality Officer, who determined that she would be unable to perform the duties of an SNA. Ms. Daly appealed to the Labour Court, which held that the school had failed to accommodate her and awarded compensation. The High Court affirmed this determination, but it was reversed by the Court of Appeal. In 2018, Ms. Daly appealed to the Supreme Court.
Section 16 of the Employment Equality Act (the "Act") states in relevant part that "a person who has a disability is fully competent to undertake . . . any duties, if the person would be so fully competent and capable on reasonable accommodation." Significantly, the Act...