Case name: Garcia v. Regis Corp., et al., No. CV09-1282-PHX-DGC (D. Ariz. 04/07/10).
Ruling: The U.S. District Court, District of Arizona rejected an employee's motion for partial summary judgment on her suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. An earlier disability ruling by a workers' compensation administrative law judge did not prevent the employer from challenging the employee's subsequent claim of disability under the ADA.
What it means: A state workers' compensation judge's finding that an employee sustained a physical disability does not automatically bar an employer from challenging the employee's subsequent disability lawsuit under the ADA.
The employee managed a hair salon. Her 2006 workers' compensation claim asserted that she injured her shoulder in the course of her employment. A workers' compensation judge determined that she had a "permanent partial disability." In 2009, the employee filed a complaint in federal court claiming that the employer violated the ADA and state civil rights law by discriminating against her because of her work-related disability. She further claimed it demoted her after learning of her disability and retaliated against her for filing the workers' compensation claim. The employee asserted that the ALJ's decision had a preclusive effect on the issue of her disability under the ADA. The District Court denied the employee's motion for partial summary judgment on that issue.
The court focused on the different definitions of disability under the ADA and state workers' compensation law. The sole focus of workers' compensation law is an economic analysis, which examines the loss of earning capacity generally, not the worker's inability to do a certain class of work. In contrast, the ADA looks at "the physical and mental health of an individual and the effect that health has on an individual's daily life."
Fatal to the employee's motion was the fact that the judge did not complete the "individualized inquiry" required to find that she was substantially limited in performing a major life activity. Though the judge found the employee had a physical impairment, that finding was only one of three elements that must be satisfied before a person is considered disabled under the ADA. The court noted that the judge "necessarily considered a different issue than disability under the ADA." Therefore, the court rejected the claim that her employer was "collaterally estopped" from litigating the issue of disability under the ADA.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
July 8, 2010
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