Is Houston Rockets’ Royce White’s Request For His Own Doctor to Have Final Say As to Whether He Can Play a Reasonable Accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act?

HBO Real Sports aired a story last night about Houston Rockets rookie Royce White and his ongoing battle for the Houston Rockets to provide him his requested reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. White suffers from mental health disabilities, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder and has not been able to practice or play a game as a result of not being provided his requested for reasonable accommodations.
After a storied career at Iowa State, White was drafted by the Houston Rockets with the 16th pick in the 2012 NBA draft. Prior to the draft, the Houston Rockets, along with other NBA teams, were aware of White’s mental health disabilities and the risks associated with his disabilities that could impact his ability to perform in the NBA. After being drafted, and after signing a 3.3 million dollar contract, White has not been able to play because he believes he has not received the requested accommodations he needs for his disability.
White has requested that the Houston Rockets provide him a medical health protocol as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. More specifically, White has asked for a driver to drive him to all NBA games, which Houston has agreed to provide him. The current sticking point between White and the Houston Rockets is White’s request to have an independent doctor have the final say as to whether White is medically able to play a particular game. White says that this is necessary because the Houston Rockets’ doctors work for the Houston Rockets and therefore have the Houston Rockets’ best interest and not his in mind when making the decision as to whether he is medically able to play. Houston Rockets will not grant this particular request because they feel it is unreasonable. After talks concerning this request hit a standstill, the Houston Rockets suspended White on January 6, 2013 and have stopped paying him his 3.3 million dollar salary.
It is important to understand the law concerning reasonable accommodations under the ADA. Under the ADA, an employee must first request that the employer provide a reasonable accommodation for his or her disability. Once the request is made, the employer must initiate an interactive process with the employee to determine whether a reasonable accommodation can be made to assist the employee in performing the essential functions of the job. Both the employee and employer must engage in this process in good faith – the rationale being that both sides have information that the other may not possess. By communicating and working together, the hope is that the employer and employee are able to identify potential accommodations that will assist the employee in being able to perform the essential functions of their position. The employer does not have to grant the employee the requested accommodation or any other accommodation if the employer engages in an interactive process in good faith and determines that the accommodation would constitute an undue burden or hardship on the employer’s operations.
Based upon the facts reported in the HBO segment, our New Jersey employment attorneys believe a court may find White’s request for an independent doctor to travel with the team and have the final say as to whether White is medically able to play as an unreasonable request for an accommodation for his disability. My main concern for White would be that a court would find it unreasonable for him to prejudge that Houston Rockets’ doctors only have the Houston Rockets best interest in mind and not his. If I were counseling White, I would advise him that if he does not feel well enough to play, then he should not play – regardless of whether the Houston Rockets doctors say he can. He knows better than anyone whether he is medically able to play. If he does not feel well enough to play, then he should sit out, as I am sure he would. Let the Houston Rockets fine him for making him work when he is medically unable to do so. Have the fight then, in which I think he would have much stronger grounds to stand on. At least at this point, White would not be speculating or prejudging the Houston Rockets doctor’s motives.

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