5th Circuit Issues Precedential Opinion in ADA Case Against Microsoft

The Fifth Circuit affirmed a district court decision in favor of Microsoft Corporation, the defendant, after finding that plaintiff-appellant John Thompson failed to satisfy his burden of proof under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regarding allegations that he was not given accommodations as an employee. 

The opinion, authored by Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham, held that the company did not fail to reasonably accommodate Thompson’s Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis, discriminate against him, or subject him to a hostile work environment and affirmed on all three counts. 

Thompson reportedly filed the Western District of Texas Suit in 2018. Prior to that, he worked as a technology strategist for Microsoft. In 2015, he first requested ASD-related accommodations, including working on only one project at a time and the provision of an assistant to help him with administrative tasks.

When Thompson showed interest in an Enterprise Architect (EA) role, a senior-level position  serving as liaison between Microsoft and its clients, the company advised him that his requested accommodations were incompatible with EA job duties. The plaintiff withdrew the accommodations request and obtained an EA position in Austin, Texas, relocating there from New Jersey in the fall of 2015.

According to the opinion, “Thompson’s performance as an EA did not go smoothly.” Thereafter, the plaintiff was removed from the role and revealed his ASD diagnosis to his manager, who temporarily removed him from the EA pool.

Thompson then requested myriad other accommodations, including a meeting scribe, and a specialized job coach. While Microsoft agreed to some accommodations, it declined to grant them all. The company reportedly endeavored to help the plaintiff find another role, but due to Thompson’s geographic and salary preferences, he declined other offers. In September 2016, Thompson took disability leave and has reportedly not returned to work since.

The court considered whether Microsoft committed the three ADA violations with regards to Thompson’s role as an EA. As for the plaintiff’s failure to accommodate claim, the court held that Thompson was not qualified under the ADA because he could not perform fundamental job functions.

The opinion highlighted that Thompson’s requests would have required Microsoft to hire someone to work with him on a full-time basis, “indicating that EAs spend a considerable amount of time on functions Thompson was seeking to have someone else do.” Judge Higginbotham also noted that throughout the interactive process, Microsoft worked with Thompson in good faith.

The appellate court denied the discrimination claim for the same reason: the plaintiff was not qualified under the ADA. In addition, it found that Thompson did not suffer an adverse employment action at Microsoft’s hands. Finally, Judge Higginbotham’s opinion found no hostile work environment because “none of the evidence Thompson relies on indicates that he was subject to harassment pervasive or severe enough to alter the conditions of his employment.”

The plaintiff is represented by McDowell Hetherington, and Microsoft by Butler Snow.