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Employment Blog

The Wide Expanse of the ADA

Authored by Ruder Ware Attorneys
Posted on May 8, 2015
Filed under Employment

A recent lawsuit filed in the federal district court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania alleges that an employer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by terminating an employee who had a doctor-diagnosed sleep disorder. According to the filing, the disorder limits the hours of the day and night during which the employee is able to sleep and, therefore, work. In his recent blog, Attorney Dean Dietrich discusses how the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals (Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia) recently opened the door for a lawsuit by allowing a case to go to trial over an assertion that a “social anxiety disorder,” which impacts a person’s ability to have personal interaction with others, should qualify for coverage under the ADA (www.ruderware.com/blue-ink-blogs/). These cases are indicative of the widening expanse of disabilities covered by the ADA. 

Congress amended the ADA by passing the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), which became effective on January 1, 2009. The ADAAA broadened criteria used to establish protected status, thereby creating a significantly lower standard for determination of a qualifying disability. The ADAAA requires that courts interpreting the ADA and other federal disability nondiscrimination laws focus on determining if an employer has violated such laws, rather than evaluate whether or not the impairment of an individual seeking the law's protection is within the parameters of the technical definition of the term "disability".

An individual who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (actual disability), has a "record of" such an impairment, or is "regarded as" having such an impairment is eligible for protection by the ADA. The comprehensive list of major life activities includes, but is not limited to, performing manual tasks, sleeping, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and interacting with others. The ADA construes the term "substantially limits" broadly in favor of maximum coverage; it is not meant to be a demanding standard. The ADA provides that impairment of major life activities should be "easily found" to be a disability, as in the case of an intellectual impairment, cancer, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, or schizophrenia. In most cases, an individual with a disability will be able to establish coverage by showing substantial limitation of a major life activity outside of “working".

Due to the widened breadth of the ADA in conjunction with recent court decisions, compliance with federal disability nondiscrimination laws can prove challenging for employers. Therefore, employers are reminded to exercise caution in deciding how to respond when an employee asserts he or she is suffering from a disability that prevents or inhibits adequate job performance. Further, depending upon the facts of each case, an employer may need to provide reasonable accommodations pursuant to federal laws.