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TEMPORARY IMPAIRMENT MAY BE AN ADA DISABILITY

August 4, 2016 | Posted in: Discrimination, Disability, ADA

Our Columbus disability lawyers want to keep you informed and assist you with requesting a reasonable accommodation from your employer if you suffer from a disability.  The 4th Circuit, in Summers v. Altarum Inst., Corp., recently held that a temporary impairment caused by an injury may be considered a disability under the ADAAA if it is sufficiently severe enough to substantially limit a major life activity.  Learn more about the disabilities and the ADA here: http://www.thefriedmannfirm.com/services/faqs.html#faq5

The plaintiff, Carl Summers, filed a wrongful termination claim under the ADA with the federal district court.  Summers was fired less than two months after sustaining an injury to both legs that prevented him from walking normally for at least 7 months.  He argued his condition was serious enough to be considered a disability under the ADA.  The court dismissed his claim, saying this was not an actual disability under the ADA, in part, because it was “temporary or transitory.”

42 U.S.C. Section 12102 defines disability under the ADA.  Disability is defined as:

(1) Disability

The term “disability” means, with respect to an individual—

  1. a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual;
  2. a record of such an impairment; or
  3. being regarded as having such an impairment (as descrived in Paragraph 3)).

(2) Major life activities

(A) In general

For purposes of paragraph (1), major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.

(B) Major bodily functions

For purposes of paragraph (1), a major life activity also includes the operation of a major bodily function, including but not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.

(3) Regarded as having such an impairment

For purposes of paragraph (1)(C):

(A) An individual meets the requirement of “being regarded as having such an impairment” if the individual establishes that he or she has been subjected to an action prohibited under this chapter because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity.

(B) Paragraph (1)(C) shall not apply to impairments that are transitory and minor. A transitory impairment is an impairment with an actual or expected duration of 6 months or less.

So according to this definition, you can see that impairments that are transitory and minor are not covered.  However, this was exactly the issue in Summers.  In October of 2011, Summers fell and injured both legs while exiting a commuter train.  He had to have several surgeries and was instructed he could not put weight on either leg for six weeks.  His physicians provided an estimate that he would not be able to walk normally for seven months.  Even though he sought to come back to work and requested accommodations, he was terminated.  The district court dismissed his claim and said he did not have a disability under the ADA.  He appealed to the 4th Circuit and it issued a decision indicating that “although short term impairments qualify as disabilities only if they are sufficiently severe, it seems clear that the serious impairment alleged by Summers is severe enough to qualify.”

The Court also said that if Summers alleged his impairment as sufficiently severe enough that it substantially limited his ability to walk, which is a major life activity as defined by the statute, he may have an actual ADA disability, despite the fact that the condition was temporary and he was expected to recover.

Conclusion

The 4th Circuit is the first Court of Appeals to issue a decision like this, which interprets the meaning of disability under the ADA as a very broad definition.  This decision does allow the definition of disability to be interpreted more broadly and is a great sign for employees who have temporary disabilities that substantially limit a major life activity or function, but are expected to fully recover.

If you want to know whether your medical condition qualifies as a disability under the ADA, contact our Ohio Employment lawyers for a consultation today.  To learn more about our attorneys, visit our About Us page http://www.thefriedmannfirm.com/about/firm-overview/.