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Who is a “qualified individual” under the ADA?

Best Disability Discrimination Lawyer Answer: The American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) protects qualified individuals with disabilities from being discriminated on their jobs and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations. For the purpose of the ADA, a qualified individual is someone who, with or without a reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential duties of their job. To be a qualified individual, the employee must also meet legitimate skill, experience, education, or other requirements the position. Written job descriptions prepared prior to any disability or accommodation issues arising may be evidence, although not necessarily conclusive, of the qualification requirements and essential functions of the job.

What qualifies as a disability?

Best ADA Attorney Answer: A “disability” is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of an individual. Working and lifting are considered to be “major life activities.” Caring for yourself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, sitting, standing, thinking concentrating, and interacting with others are also considered to be “major life activities”. (Best Law Read: Is A Heart Attack Considered A Disability Under The ADA?; Is Cancer A Disability Under The ADA?; Does The ADA Protect Transitory Conditions Like COVID Or A Broken Leg?; What Are My Mental Health Rights At Work?; What Are My Job Rights If I’m Suicidal?). Thus, the ADA defines an “individual with a disability” as an employee with physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. (Best Law Read: Is Epilepsy A Protected Disability At Work?; Does The ADA Protect Transitory Conditions Like COVID Or A Broken Leg?).

On an important note, an employer can be liable for discrimination on the basis of your disability only if the employer knew of the employee’s disability prior to the act of discrimination.

The ADA also protects employees who are known by the employer to have an association or relationship with a disabled individual.

What protections does the ADA provide to disabled employees?

Best Disability Accommodation At Work Attorney Answer: The ADA and a variety of state laws, including, Ohio R.C. § 4112 prohibit discrimination against a “qualified individual” on the basis of their disability. The ADA also requires an employer to make reasonable accommodations to qualified individual’s known disability, unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business. In all, the ADA protects a person from being demoted, made fun or, or wrongfully terminated because they are disabled or perceived to be disabled. (Best Law Read: Do I Have A Disability Discrimination Case?).

How do you prove disability discrimination?

Best Wrongful Termination Lawyer Answer: To prove a claim for disability discrimination under the ADA, a court will examine four prima facie elements. (Best Law Read: What does prima facie mean?). Those four elements are: (1) whether the employee was qualified for the job at the time of the adverse employment action; (2) whether the employee was subjected to an adverse employment action, such as wrongful termination, demotion, suspension; (3) whether the employee was known by the employer at the time to be related to or associated with someone with a disability; and (4) the case falls into one of the three relevant categories: expense, disability by association, or distraction. (Best Law Read: What Constitutes An Adverse Employment Action Under Title VII?; What Is An Adverse Employment Action?; Is An Expert Needed To Prove Disability In Discrimination Cases?).

What is an example of disability discrimination at work?

Best Employees’ Rights Attorney Answer:

For today’s blog, we are using a July 11, 2022 decision from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee in the case of Curtis L. Roper v. Knoxville Assisted Living Retirement Community, LLC, No. 3:20-cv-439, 2022 WL 2679842 (E.D. Tenn. July 11, 2022). In that case, the district court determined that it was disputed whether the employer discriminated against the employee on the basis of his disability and failed to adequately accommodate his disability.

In June 2019, Curtis was hired by the employer, a retirement community, to serve as a laundry aide on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and a van driver on Tuesdays and Thursdays. At Curtis’ interview, he informed the interviewer that he suffered from a hernia. Once hired, Curtis received lifting training and was informed that he should request assistance to lift any items he considered too heavy to lift alone. As a van driver, Curtis drove a van to transport residents to various appointments and errands. The job description for a van driver stated that he was responsible for “assisting all passengers into and out of the van”, “securing passengers with wheelchairs into seats with seatbelts,” and refraining from “transporting any passenger in a wheelchair.” The employer asserted that based on the job description, Curtis was required to lift residents from their wheelchairs into seats on the van.

For the laundry aide position, Curtis was required to collect, wash, dry, fold, and put away residents’ laundry and linens. Curtis used a laundry cart to transport laundry around the residential community. The employer asserted that lifting baskets of laundry in residents’ rooms, transferring washed laundry to the dryer, and moving laundry detergent containers entailed lifting over 10 pounds.

On November 13, 2019, Curtis provided his supervisor with a work restriction, or doctor’s note, indicating that he could not lift more than 10 pounds for medical reasons. This work restriction meant that Curtis would need a reasonable accommodation from his Employer. On November 14, 2019, Curtis’ supervisors attempted to discuss an accommodation to Curtis’ work restriction via text message without discussing it with Curtis. On November 18, 2019, the Employer terminated Curtis, stating that “due to the fact that he could not perform the essential functions of any position for which he was qualified”. The Employer further claimed that Curtis’ work restriction prevented him from lifting residents and were concerned that he could have injured himself or others while working.

In this case, Curtis Roper brought claims under the ADA for failure to provide a reasonable accommodation and failure to engage in the interactive process. To bring a reasonable accommodation claim under the ADA, an employee must show that (1) he is disabled; and (2) that he is otherwise qualified for the position despite his disability without an accommodation from the employer; with an alleged essential job requirement eliminated; or with a proposed reasonable accommodation. If the employee satisfies these requirements, the employer must then show that the challenged job duty is essential or that a proposed accommodation will impose an undue hardship upon the employer.

In this case, the Court found that evidence suggested that Curtis informed his supervisor of his hernia and lifting restriction prior to his termination. Therefore, the Employer knew or should have known of Curtis’ disability.

Next, the Employer attempted to argue that Curtis was not qualified for his position because lifting at least 10 pounds was an “essential function” of his two positions. Remember, an employee is “qualified” for a position only if they can perform the essential functions of the job with or without an accommodation. Essential functions of a job are “core” or important functions of the job that would seriously change the nature of the job or position.

The Court found that there was a dispute over whether the ability to lift 10 pounds was an essential function of Curtis’ jobs. While some evidence did in fact suggest that lifting at least 10 pounds was an essential function, other evidence suggested that lifting at least 10 pounds was not an essential function. Specifically, the amount of time Curtis spent lifting at least 10 pounds suggested that the lifting was not essential. As a van driver, there was evidence that residents either walked onto the van without assistance or were lifted by the van’s mechanical lift. Even if a resident needed to be personally lifted, a caregiver or other employee could have assisted. For Curtis’ other position as a laundry aide, Curtis did not necessarily need to lift over 10 pounds as he could divide laundry into smaller loads. On a final note, the written job descriptions for both the van driver and laundry aide did not show that an employee would need to lift over 10 pounds.

Interestingly, evidence presented that the employer had even previously accommodated other employees when they had lifting restrictions similar to Curtis. For example, the employer placed one caregiver on receptionist duty after she suffered a vehicle accident and another caregiver on “light duty” when she injured her back lifting a resident. Therefore, the employer could have reasonably attempted to accommodate Curtis’ lifting restriction and lifting over 10 pounds was not essential to Curtis’ positions.

Curtis also brought a failure to engage in the interactive process claim under the ADA. The ADA requires an employer to initiate an informal and interactive process when necessary to determine how an employee’s disability limits his ability to work and to identify appropriate reasonable accommodations. An employer fails to engage in this interactive process only if the employee can demonstrate that he could have performed the essential functions of his positions with a reasonable  accommodation. Additionally, the employer may not decide the  accommodation they are willing to offer before even meeting to discuss it with the employee who is seeking the  accommodation.

In this case, the Court held that the evidence suggested that the employer failed to engage in the interactive process, as text messages between Curtis’ supervisors suggested that they had determined Curtis’ accommodations before meeting with Curtis.

What should I do if I’m terminated because of my disability?

Best Ohio Employment Firm for Employees Answer: If you have been discriminated against based on your disability, call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. Our employee’s rights lawyers are here for you in Ohio, Michigan, and North Carolina. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting employee’s rights under Ohio employment law. Our attorneys are ready to give you a free consultation. (Read: What is the Spitz No Fee Guarantee?).


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