Employees with disabilities are sometimes caught between the desire to work and the need to apply for public or short-term disability benefits for survival purposes. The Ninth Circuit does a good job in explaining how these are not necessarily in conflict, reversing summary judgment in an Americans with Disabilities Act case where a school teacher had to apply for disability retirement.
Though slightly off the employment-beat, this Ninth Circuit decision may be useful to our readers, for the important and simple lesson that an Americans with Disabilities Act plaintiff does not necessarily need an expert to testify about architectural barriers. As the panel majority writes, "Perhaps we've become too expert-prone."
Not all of the protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act are limited to disabled persons. The AD also protects employees from undergoing unconsented medical exams, unless the employer can show that the exam is job-related and consistent with business necessity (42 U.S.C. § 12112(d)(4)(A)). In this Eleventh Circuit case, the panel holds that an employee does not need to be disabled to have standing to bring suit under this section. The panel, nonetheless, affirms summary judgment for the employer, finding that it made out its job-related/business-necessity defense as a matter of law.
Once again, a federal court of appeals is compelled to reverse summary judgment in a discrimination case where the employer brazenly offered no reason for its decision to terminate the plaintiff. The Seventh Circuit here remands claims of ADA discrimination and retaliation for an employee diagnosed with MS. (The ADA retaliation claim specifically concerns a manager who is openly resentful of the plaintiff's disability, all but accusing the plaintiff of malingering.) Judge David Hamilton, concurring, also explains why the common McDonnell Douglas method of proof may be backwards, essentially requiring the employee to guess at the employer's defense before it is offered.
Here's a potentially important case for disabled persons and their advocates residing in the Second Circuit (NY, CT and VT) and elsewhere. A panel reverses summary judgment in a case involving a city professional employee with schizophrenia under medication, holding that accommodations such as flex-time and unsupervised work may be reasonable in some instances. In this particular case, the record reflected that the employee had been so accommodated for ten years before a supervisor suddenly and inexplicably called an end to it.
The Seventh Circuit substantially affirms a judgment in favor of the EEOC on a hard-fought ADA reasonable accommodations case, concerning an employee forced to work beyond his medical restrictions. The judgment included an award of $100,000 in compensatory damages, $200,000 in punitive damages, and $115,000 in back pay, plus an injunction on AutoZone's anti-discrimination practices.
A common scenario in employment cases is the manager or supervisor who overreacts to a blow-up at work by firing the employee. What the employer may deem as a measured response to insubordination can, after the fact, be held by a court or jury to be the culmination of unlawful discrimination or retaliation. In this case, the First Circuit returns just such a case for a trial, reversing summary judgment entered against a nurse who was fired after complaining that she was being worked beyond her restrictions.
While the Americans with Disabilities Act protects medical information about employees disclosed to an employer as a result of "medical examinations and inquiries," 42 U.S.C. § 12112(d), such protection is not infinitely elastic. The Seventh Circuit, affirming summary judgment in this ADA case, holds that the employer must "already kn[o]w something [i]s wrong with the employee before initiating the interaction in order for that interaction to constitute a 42 U.S.C. § 12112(d)(4)(B) inquiry." Fortunately for disabled employees, such circumstances are usually within their control if they are willing to come straight with their bosses about their work-related needs at the beginning of the relationship.
The Tenth Circuit joins other circuits and the EEOC in holding, under the Rehabilitation Act, that the required "reasonable accommodation" of persons with disabilities is not limited to accommodations related to the essential functions of a job. Here, the court holds that it may be a reasonable accommodation to transfer an employee to a major metropolitan area to enable her to get Medical attention. "Considering the case law from this court and others, we conclude that a transfer accommodation for Medical care or treatment is not per se unreasonable, even if an employee is able to perform the essential functions of her job without it."
The Seventh Circuit today announces the overruling of its precedents, EEOC v. Humiston-Keeling, 227 F.3d 1024 (7th Cir. 2000) and Mays v. Principi, 301 F.3d 866 (7th Cir. 2002), that held employers had no duty to place employees who were losing their current positions due to disability into vacant positions for which they are otherwise qualified. The court holds that this interpretation of the ADA was superseded by the Supreme Court decision, U.S. Airways, Inc. v. Barnett, 535 U.S. 391 (2002), and that employers have a duty to transfer.