A United Airlines flight attendant is suing her employer, claiming United violated federal disability laws in refusing to allow her to wear doctor-recommended footwear to ease chronic pain. United claims she has been given permission to wear the footwear.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sided with FA Edie Hall in May, ruling United denied her reasonable accommodations. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers must provide “reasonable accommodation” to employees with short-term and permanent disabilities.
Hall wears clogs on the job, like the picture below. She’s been wearing them onboard since 2004. She’s never had a problem wearing them onboard, but four years ago she was allegedly told by her boss that her footwear was inappropriate while walking through the airport.
Hall claims United required her to obtain a doctor’s note every year certifying that the clogs were necessary. This was the basis for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s ruling against United. An annual doctor’s note is not required (and deemed a violation of law) when the condition is permanent.
Again, the issue was never onboard–it was only while walking in airports.
She’s now suing for damages.
Meanwhile, United dismisses the lawsuit, saying Hall has no legal basis. Spokesman Charles Hobart says that Hall has actually been given continuous permission from 2013 to wear these shoes.
Hall shares that she received a note only last week from United telling her that no further doctor’s notes were necessary. She’s worried because it was not signed by anyone at United…
Does She Have a Case?
Hall claims United granted her permission than rescinded it three times. Thus, she has no basis upon which to rely upon United’s latest grant of permission.
That’s a legal argument that may work. Even though United can point to its unequivocal note granting her a disability exception to wear these shoes, United’s past actions give Hall a reasonable basis upon which to question the veracity of United’s latest reprieve.
But damages? I’m not sure what she can point to, because it seems she never actually stopped wearing the clogs.
There are deeper issues on the role of a FA and the importance of branding. I find such discussion so divisive that I’d prefer not to even get into it here.
I’m skeptical about this lawsuit. Even if United is to be condemned for not being more reasonable concerning workplace footwear, Hall has prevailed already. She has a document granting her a permanent waiver to the uniform policy. Her story, now publicized, makes it virtually impossible for United to ever backtrack. She has won.