Best Ohio Disability Discrimination Attorney Answers: Does the ADA cover temporary impairments? What constitutes a temporary disability? I am covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act after I got injured and need crutches?
Oftentimes an individual will call our employment discrimination lawyers with a fact pattern similar to the following: “I was injured at work [or in a car accident or some other type of accident] and my boss won’t accommodate my injury.” The injury may be a broken bone, ligament tear or some other type of injury that requires some time away from work, a need for light duty, or need for some other type of accommodation in order to keep working. The injury is not permanent. It will get better or heal over time. However, the employer does not want to wait for that to happen. Some point after the injury, but before full recovery, the employee is terminated. What claims are available? Can the employee claim that she was disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) ?
Now, if it’s a work injury, and the employee files a Worker’s Compensation claim and is then fired, the employee may have a direct claim under Ohio R.C. § 4123.90 for Worker’s Compensation retaliation. But what if you hvae a non-work injury? The employee may be left with claiming that he or she was disabled under the ADA or be left without a claim. So the question remains, does the ADA cover “temporary” disabilities? Under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAAA”), the answer is “yes”, as long as the temporary impairments are “severe”.
Specifically, in the first Court of Appeals decision to address this issue, Summers vs. Altarum Institute Corp., the United States Court of Appeals For The Fourth Circuit held that after the ADAAA, the ADA now protect persons with temporary disabilities which are “severe.” The caveat, however, is that the “temporary” disability must be an actual impairment, not a “regarded as” disability. In fact, when the ADAAA was enacted, it included specific language stating that if an impairment was temporary meaning “an actual or expected duration of six months or less,” it would not be considered a “regarded as” disability. This means that the employer would not be liable for discriminating against an employee with a perceived temporary disability. But the Fourth Circuit in Summers held that “actual” temporary disability is a different story.
In Summers, the employee, Carl Summers, fell as he was getting off a commuter train with a heavy bag slung over his shoulder. Summers slammed both his knees against the train platform. Paramedics were called and took Summers to the hospital, where doctors determined that he had sustained serious injuries to both of his legs. Specifically, Summers fractured his left leg, tore the meniscus tendon in his left knee, fractured his right ankle, and ruptured a tendon in his right leg. According to medical reports of his injuries, Summers’ left-leg fracture required surgery to fit a metal plate, screws, and bone into his tibia. At the same time, Summers’s ruptured right quadriceps necessitated surgery to drill a hole in the patella and refasten his tendons to the knee. It sounds painful just typing it here. However, without these surgeries, bed rest, pain medication, and physical therapy, Summers “likely” would not have walked for over a year following his injureis.
As a result of having these surgeries, Summers could not walk for six weeks, and would not be able to walk normally for seven months.
During his hospital stay, Summers called his employer’s human-resources representative about getting short-term disability benefits and the accommodation of working from home during his recovery. The HR representative agreed to talk about “accommodations that would allow Summers to return to work,” but also said that Summers should “take short-term disability and focus on getting well again.” Next, Summers emailed his supervisors and requested “a plan in which he would take short-term disability for a few weeks, then start working remotely part-time, and then increase his hours gradually until he was full-time again.”
A month and a half after suffering the injuries, the employee was fired by the employer. He filed a wrongful termination claim under the ADA/ADAAA. The district court held that the employee was not protected by the ADAAA, however, on appeal the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the ADAAA did in fact cover temporary “actual” disabilities and that in this specific case, the injuries were “severe” enough to fall under that definition and coverage of the ADAAA:
The ADA makes it unlawful for covered employers to “discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a) (2012). The Act prohibits covered employers from discharging qualified employees because they are disabled. Id. To establish a wrongful-discharge claim, a plaintiff must show, among other things, that he suffered from a “disability.” Young v. United Parcel Serv., 707 F.3d 437, 443 (4th Cir. 2013).
Under the ADA, a “disability” may take any of the following forms: (1) “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities” (the “actual-disability” prong); (2) “a record of such an impairment” (the “record-of” prong); or (3) “being regarded as having such an impairment” (the “regarded-as” prong). 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1). Summers alleges that he was disabled under the ADA’s actual-disability prong. Specifically, he asserts that his impairment “substantially limit[ed]” his ability to walk — which the ADA recognizes as one of the “major life activities” whose substantial limitation qualifies as a disability. Id. § 12102(2)(A). Accordingly, if Summers’s impairment substantially limited his ability to walk, he suffered a “disability” for purposes of the ADA. …
In September 2008, Congress broadened the definition of “disability” by enacting the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-325, 122 Stat. 3553 (“ADAAA” or “amended Act”). In response to a series of Supreme Court decisions that Congress believed improperly restricted the scope of the ADA, it passed legislation with the stated purpose of “reinstating a broad scope of protection to be available under the ADA.” Id. § 2(b)(1). Particularly relevant to this case, Congress sought to override Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184, 199 (2002), in which the Supreme Court had adopted a strict construction of the term “disability” and suggested that a temporary impairment could not qualify as a disability under the Act. Congress believed that Toyota set an “inappropriately high level of limitation necessary to obtain coverage under the ADA.” Pub. L. No. 110-325, § 2(b)(5).9
Abrogating Toyota, the amended Act provides that the definition of disability “shall be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals under this chapter, to the maximum extent permitted by [its] terms.” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(4)(A). Further, Congress instructed that the term “substantially limits” be interpreted consistently with the liberalized purposes of the ADAAA. Id. § 12102(4)(B).1 And Congress directed the Equal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) to revise its regulations defining the term “substantially limits” to render them consistent with the broadened scope of the statute. Pub. L. No. 110-325, § 2(b)(6).
After notice and comment, the EEOC promulgated regulations clarifying that “[t]he term ‘substantially limits’ shall be construed broadly in favor of expansive coverage” and that the term is “not meant to be a demanding standard.” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(1)(i) (2013). The EEOC regulations also expressly provide that “effects of an impairment lasting or expected to last fewer than six months can be substantially limiting” for purposes of proving an actual disability. Id. § 1630.2(j)(1)(ix)…
In dismissing Summers’s wrongful-discharge claim, the district court held that, even though Summers had “suffered a very serious injury,” this injury did not constitute a disability because it was temporary and expected to heal within a year. That holding represented an entirely reasonable interpretation of Toyota and its progeny. But in 2008, Congress expressly abrogated Toyota by amending the ADA. We are the first appellate court to apply the amendment’s expanded Fortunately, the absence of appellate precedent presents no difficulty in this case: Summers has unquestionably alleged a “disability” under the ADAAA sufficiently plausible to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. …
In holding that Summers’s temporary injury could not constitute a disability as a matter of law, the district court erred not only in relying on pre-ADAAA cases but also in misapplying the ADA disability analysis. … If the fact that a person could work with the help of a wheelchair meant he was not disabled under the Act, the ADA would be eviscerated
Having to live with a disability is difficult enough without worrying about the effect it may have on your job. 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. Call our Ohio employment law attorneys at 866-797-6040. The best option is not to wait. The Spitz Law Firm, and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting disabled employees’ rights under ADA and Ohio employment law.
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