Monday, July 25, 2011

Is this what a disability analysis looks like under the ADAAA?

A lot has be written over the past couple of years predicting how the 2009 amendments to the ADA have eviscerated the definition of disability. Here’s what I wrote a couple of months ago, after reviewing the EEOC’s then-new regulations:

While the regulations make clear that “not every impairment will constitute a disability,” because of the ADAAA’s expansive definition of disability, most will…. In other words, employers should give up hope that they will be able to prove that an employee’s medical condition does not qualify as a disability.

Now, we finally have an example that starts to prove these predictions correct.

Gesegnet v. J.B. Hunt Transport (W.D. Ky. 5/26/11) concerns whether an employer failed in its obligation to reasonably accommodate an employee’s bi-polar and anxiety disorders by making arrangements for a pre-employment drug screening somewhere other than a small room. Before the court could reach the reasonable accommodation issue, it had to first address whether the employee qualified as “disabled” under the ADA. The following is the court’s searing analysis of this important threshold issue:

In difficult cases, a plaintiff usually proves disability through a combination of medical evidence and personal testimony detailing the practical impact of that medical condition. Here, Plaintiff is lacking in each area.... The Court doubts that the medical and personal evidence here is sufficient to show an actual inability to perform a basic function of life. Nevertheless, given the broad definition of disability Congress intended, the Court will assume that Plaintiff has a disability under the ADAAA.

Because employers will not be able to prove that an employee is not “disabled,” employers will be better served by focusing their ADA-compliance efforts on the two issues that now matter: avoiding discrimination and providing reasonable accommodations.

Written by Jon Hyman, a partner in the Labor & Employment group of Kohrman Jackson & Krantz. For more information, contact Jon at (216) 736-7226 or