Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ex-employees are not covered by the ADA for handling of post-employment benefits

In McKnight v. General Motors (6th Cir. 12/4/08), the 6th Circuit was presented with the question of whether disabled former employees have standing under the ADA to bring suit against their former employers for discrimination with respect to the payment of post-employment fringe benefits. At issue in the case was whether GM’s pension plans give equal access to disabled and non-disabled employees.

In ruling for GM, the Court adopted the reasoning of a 9th Circuit decision, Weyer v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. (9th Cir. 2000):

Title I says that “[n]o covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual.” A “qualified individual” is someone who “can perform.” That definition uses the present tense. Thus, one must be able to perform the essential functions of employment at the time that one is discriminated against in order to bring suit under Title I. In addition, one must be discriminated against “because of the disability”—which requires that the disability exist at the time of the discrimination and be the motivation for the discrimination.

Thus, the Court concluded “that disabled former employees are not ‘qualified individuals’ with a disability under Title I of the ADA.”

This decision, while significant, has limited applicability to most employers. For example, one should not interpret this decision to mean that no ex-employee has standing to sue under the ADA. To the contrary, an employee who could perform the essential functions of the job at the time of the challenged decision still has standing to sue. This decision has no impact on the run of the mill ADA plaintiff who claims a denial of a reasonable accommodation or a termination from employment because of a disability. This decision only impacts those decisions that affect an individual after an individual ceases employment – pension and benefit decisions, for example.