Ohio Best Disability Discrimination Attorney Answer: What constitutes disability discrimination at work under the law? Can I still sue my employer for disability discrimination even though I am not really disabled but my boss just thinks that I have a disability? Am I protected by discrimination laws for my temporary disability?
While it may seem like determining whether somebody is disabled is a matter of common sense, it is often anything but simple as our employment discrimination attorneys have blogged about. (See My Job Is Discriminates Against Me Because I’m Disabled!; Top Disability Discrimination Lawyer: Is It Disability Discrimination If My Job Will Not Accommodate My Anti-Social Disorder?; Is Alcoholism A Disability Under The ADA?; and Can Be Fired For Taking Time Off For Fertility Treatments?). Two questions that our attorneys often get is: (1) Can I be fired if I am only temporarily disabled? and (2) Is it wrongful termination for my boss to fire me because he thinks I have a disability, but I really don’t.
For the purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA“) and Ohio law, each has its own definition of “disabled.” Under Ohio R.C. § 4112.01(A)(13), a “disability” is defined as
a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, including the functions of caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working; a record of a physical or mental impairment; or being regarded as having a physical or mental impairment
Likewise, the ADA, which was amended in 2008 by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act (“ADAAA”), defines a disability under 42 U.S.C § 12102 as:
(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual;
(B) a record of such an impairment; or
(C) being regarded as having such an impairment (as described in paragraph (3)).
As you may have noticed, the Ohio definition is nearly identical to the ADA definition. In fact, Ohio courts have routinely held that federal decisions on the ADA are applicable to the Ohio statute when the terms of the federal statute are consistent with Ohio law, or when Ohio law leaves a term undefined. While no Court has directly addressed the impact of the ADAAA on Ohio law, it would seem that to the extent it is not inconsistent, the ADAAA and case law interpreting it would govern interpretation of Ohio law. Likewise, both the ADA and Ohio law define a disability as being “regarded as” having an impairment – regardless of whether you actually have an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (major life activities, by the way, generally include those items listed in the Ohio law; the ADAAA references a non-exhaustive list of other activities, such as reading, concentrating, thinking, and communicating, functions of the immune system; normal cell growth; and digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions). Thus, those who are actually disabled (and this is a broad category) and those who are regarded as disabled are protected under the law from discrimination.
Prior to the ADAAA, courts had generally held that temporary impairments, such as an impairment that prevented someone from lifting more than a certain amount of weight, did not constitute a “substantial impairment.” However, in Summers v. Altarum Institute, Corp., the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals explained that the ADAAA had changed the law, such that temporary impairments could constitute a disability if they were sufficiently severe:
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, 122 S.Ct. 681, 151 L.Ed.2d 615 (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).
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). And Congress directed the 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) (emphasis added).
According to the appendix to the EEOC regulations, the “duration of an impairment is one factor that is relevant in determining whether the impairment substantially limits a major life activity.” Id. § 1630.2(j)(1)(ix) (app.). Although “[i]mpairments that last only for a short period of time are typically not covered,” they may be covered “if sufficiently severe.” Id. The EEOC appendix illustrates these principles: “[I]f an individual has a back impairment that results in a 20-pound lifting restriction that lasts for several months, he is substantially limited in the major life activity of lifting, and therefore covered under the first prong of the definition of disability.” Id.
Likewise, the Court noted that while the ADAAA contained a specific, six month requirement for “regarded as” disabilities, no such requirement was imposed upon actual disabilities. Applying rules of statutory construction, the Court reasoned that the lack of such language was intentional, and that actual disabilities that last less than six months would qualify for protection under the ADA.
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. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting disabled employees’ rights under ADA and Ohio employment law.
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