The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects individuals who are disabled (or considered to be disabled) from discrimination in a variety of contexts. In the employment arena, it applies to employers who have 15 or more employees. While it encompasses a wide range of physical or mental impairments, there are limitations in who is considered disabled and under what circumstances as noted in a recent federal court decision.
To establish a claim for discrimination, an employee must establish:
- The employer is subject to the ADA;
- The employee is disabled within the meaning of the ADA;
- The employee is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation; and
- The employee was subject to an adverse employment action because of his/her disability or the employer failed to provide reasonable accommodation.
The ADA defines a disability as a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Work is considered to be a major life activity for this purpose. The scope of this definition was recently addressed in a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Woolf v. Strada (decided February 6, 2020).
In the case, the employee suffered from migraines, which prevented him from certain work functions at Bloomberg, L.P, where he was a sales representative. He had requested a transfer claiming that his migraines were related to stress caused by his direct supervisors. However, as a result of his poor work performance, which was related to the migraines, the company did not consider him to be in good standing and therefore, he was not eligible for a transfer. The employee alleged he was discriminated against under the ADA based on the employer’s adverse actions.
The parties did not dispute that the migraines constituted a “physical or mental impairment,” however, there was a question concerning whether it substantially limited the employee’s ability to work as provided under the ADA. Based on the trial record, the Court found that the employee was not concerned about his ability to do similar work in another location or under the supervision of different managers. As a result, the Court held that while the definition of a disability for purposes of the ADA should be broadly construed, an inability to work at one specific job for one specific employer does not count as a disability. Instead, the employee must show the limitation affects his/her ability to perform “a class or broad range of jobs.” This decision concurs with other Courts of Appeals around the country.
If you considering an ADA claim or concerned about a potential claim being brought again you, contact one of our attorneys.