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Media > Newsletters > Civil Rights Reporter > December 2018 > Colfor Manufacturing v. Ohio Civil Rights Commission (2017-Ohio-9402)

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Colfor Manufacturing v. Ohio Civil Rights Commission (2017-Ohio-9402)


Ohio law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against an individual because of the person’s disability. (See Ohio Revised Code Section 4112.02(A)). In this case, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission looked at whether an employer had failed to engage in the interactive process when an employee with a disability sought an accommodation. 

Summary: Colfor uses presses to forge steel into parts for the auto industry. There are two types of presses: hot presses (where the steel is handled with tongs) and cold presses (where the steel is handled with gloves). Jason Ott had worked as a press operator since 1994. In 2010, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. His doctor agreed that because the extreme heat around the hot presses would aggravate his condition, Ott could only work on cold presses. Colfor accommodated him until late 2010 when it began consolidating its facilities. At that time, Colfor decided that all press operators needed to be able to work on both hot and cold presses. Ott applied for one of the 10 press operator positions at the consolidated plant, but Colfor denied his request because of Ott’s inability to work the hot presses. Ott took a lower-paid position as a machine operator. He also filed a charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, which investigated and issued a probable cause determination.

Outcome: A five-day hearing was held before an administrative law judge from the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. Colfor argued that it was reasonable to require every press operator to work every press, that Ott’s communications with management were not requests for accommodations, that Ott’s doctor could not know what a proper accommodation would be because he had not visited the plant, and that Colfor could not determine what a “hot” or “cold” press was. Ultimately, however, the administrative law judge found that Colfor had failed to engage in the interactive process and review what was happening on its plant floor, because, as it turned out, most of the press operators operated either a cold press or a hot press, but not both, meaning Colfor would have been able to accommodate Ott as it had prior to the consolidation. The commission adopted the administrative law judge’s recommendation and ordered Colfor to allow Ott to have the press operator job (and pay the difference from his lower-paid position), to draft new accommodation policies, and to train its workers in fair employment practices. 

Takeaway: When an employee with a disability seeks an accommodation, the employer should listen to the request and communicate. More specifically, the employer should engage in the interactive process. In its simplest form, the interactive process involves listening to what the employee is asking for, discussing why the person needs the accommodation and how it helps, and looking to see if there is a reasonable solution that can help the employee perform the job.