Broader interpretation of disability under ADAAA propels case forward
Case name: Gil v. Vortex, LLC, No. 09-11993-RGS (D. Mass. 03/25/10).
In one of the first cases interpreting the ADA Amendments Act, the U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts declined to dismiss an employee's disability discrimination suit against his employer. However, it dismissed his workers' compensation retaliation suit.
What it means: Instances of alleged disability discrimination that occurred after the Jan. 1, 2009, effective date of the ADAAA will now be assessed under the new law's broader interpretation of the definition of disability. Therefore, many claims involving adverse employment actions that can be linked to an employee's actual or perceived disability may survive when they previously would have been dismissed.
Summary: A punch press operator, who was blind in one eye, cut himself while operating the punch press. The employer questioned his ability to work safely with his impairment and requested medical documentation of his fitness for duty. The employee provided a doctor's note. A year later, he suffered a work-related hernia, which required surgery. After he submitted a workers' compensation claim, the employer terminated him for providing inadequate medical documentation in response to its request. He provided more detailed information and was reinstated. When he attempted to return to work after hernia surgery, the employer permanently terminated his employment for lack of work. The District Court allowed the disability discrimination claims to proceed but dismissed the state workers' compensation retaliation claim because the termination on which it had been based was rescinded by the employer.
The court determined that because the employee's termination occurred after the ADAAA became effective, the broader interpretations of disability under the new law and its proposed regulations applied. It noted that the employee's allegation that his impairment substantially limited the activities of seeing and working created a valid ADAAA claim. Moreover, the employee's assertion that his employment was terminated because the employer feared he would injure himself due to his impairment created a claim for "regarded as" discrimination under the ADAAA.
The employer's argument that the employee's failure to request an accommodation defeated his status as an otherwise qualified employee fell through because the employee claimed he had successfully performed his duties and was able to continue doing so without accommodation, the court said.
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May 13, 2010
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