Disability Discrimination Attorney’s Best Answer: When is a person disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act? Is short stature a disability? Has a plaintiff ever sued an employer because of discrimination based on short stature and won?
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) a person is disabled if they suffer from a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of their major life activities. While the ADA doesn’t list qualified impairments the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has explained that there is a difference between impairments and physical, psychological, environmental, economic, and cultural characteristics that aren’t impairments. Thus, eye and hair color, muscle tone, weight, or height within the “normal” range that didn’t result from some physiological disorder are not impairments.
Based in part on this interpretation a federal district court in McElmurry v Arizona Department of Agriculture rejected an employer’s motion to dismiss argument that height can never be a disability. Our disability discrimination attorneys have blogged before about the McElmurry case and concluded that, while height is not always a disability, in limited circumstances height outside the normal range could establisha disability within the meaning of the ADA. A recently settled case in Michigan points toward the correctness of this conclusion.
Destinee Bryce is a 4’7”, 95 pounds certified police officer currently working for Reed City, Michigan. In August 2010 she was a part-time deputy with the Saginaw County, Michigan Sheriff’s Department. After working for a year Saginaw County offered her a full-time position. To get the job she would have to complete a training program. But, some in the Sheriff’s Department were apprehensive about her transition to full time deputy.
Destinee only advanced to the third stage of the training program because a deputy she was training with put her on a “performance-improvement plan” that interfered with her ability to move on to the fourth stage, a stage at which she would have worked alone. Eventually the Sheriff’s Department terminated her from the training program and from her part-time duties without a consensus meeting. The consensus meeting was a Department policy wherein all of Bryce’s training program officers were supposed to meet to figure out if they wanted to terminate her or not.
At this point Destinee saw the writing on the wall and contacted an experienced employment discrimination attorney. She filed suit against Saginaw County and Sheriff William L. Federspiel for $1.3 million in lost wages. She argued that when the Sheriff’s department actively prevented her from advancing to full-time deputy it discriminated against her based on her gender and height.
After five days of testimony and less than a day before the jury would get the case, Saginaw County rightly decided to settle the case. The terms of the settlement have not been released.
The takeaway? Height outside the normal range might constitute a disability within the meaning of the ADA. In McElmurry, the defendant employers could not get a case dismissed as a matter of law before it reached the jury. Here, the defendant county did not want the case to go to the jury and settled. If you believe your employer has discriminated against you because of your short-stature do what Destinee did and contact an experienced employment discrimination attorney.
If you are disabled or your employer perceives you as being disabled; and you have been fired, wrongfully terminated, discriminated against, demoted, wrongfully disciplined, denied wages, or even think that you might need a disability discrimination lawyer, then call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at 866-797-6040. The best option is not to wait. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting disables employees’ rights under ADA and Ohio law.
The materials available at the top of this page and on this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking, “how do I get a work accommodation for my disability?”, “am I disabled under the ADA?”, “what should I do if…” or “can my boss fired me for …”, it would be best for you to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to disability discrimination questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, attorney Brian Spitz or any individual attorney.