(CN) – A disabled employee is entitled to non-skid floor coverings for her service dog, the Montana Supreme Court ruled.
Janelle McDonald worked as a fiscal officer for the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. She used a service dog named Bess to help her deal with a pair of disabilities.
McDonald’s left leg is impaired due to a fracture she suffered several years ago. She has difficulty on stairs and hard surfaces, and has trouble walking long distances.
McDonald also suffers from depression and dissociative identity disorder. She loses her memory and attention, making it difficult to complete tasks.
While service dogs are generally considered to help only the blind, Bess the Australian shepherd is one of a growing group of dogs who help people with mental impairments.
Bess keeps McDonald active by preventing her from oversleeping. The dog also nudges and calms McDonald down in the event of a dissociative episode.
The discrimination claim arose when Bess began having trouble walking on tiled floors. McDonald asked the department for carpeting or other non-skid floor coverings for 17 months to no avail. Bess finally had to be retired after repeated slips, and her absence has hurt McDonald’s work performance.
The hearing examiner ruled that the department had discriminated against McDonald and imposed a penalty of $30,000. The Human Rights Commission affirmed the decision, but the First Judicial District Court for Lewis and Clark County reversed it, ruling that the department had no duty to accommodate the dog.
Justice Nelson reversed the county court, ruling that the accommodation is necessary for McDonald.
“McDonald was an otherwise qualified employee who needed and was entitled to a reasonable accommodation so that she could use her service animal effectively in the workplace,” Nelson wrote. “Her requested accommodation of nonskid floor coverings … was not beyond the scope of the department’s duty under the Montana Human Rights Act.”