A recent federal appeals court decision could make it more difficult for disabled individuals making employment discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The ADA, a federal law passed 27 years ago, was designed to increase workplace opportunities for people with disabilities. Under the law, an employer cannot discriminate against a qualified individual who can perform the “essential functions” of a job, or can perform them with reasonable accommodations.
In the case of Bagwell v. Morgan County Commission, the plaintiff had been a groundskeeper at a county government owned recreational facility for nearly a decade when she was badly injured in a motorcycle accident. After medical leave, she returned to work with a note from her doctor saying that she had no physical restrictions. However, a county commissioner noticed that she was walking with a limp and insisted that she be evaluated by a county physician. After the county physician found that she was not “medically qualified” to do her job, she was fired.
The plaintiff filed a lawsuit under the ADA, arguing that she could perform the “essential functions” of her job with reasonable accommodations. The court looked to the county government’s official description of the groundskeeper’s job to determine what the “essential functions” were.
The plaintiff argued that she rarely, if ever, performed many of the functions listed, including using a chainsaw and a post-hole digger. Nevertheless, the court held that all of the functions listed in the job description, even those performed infrequently, were “essential functions” for purposes of the plaintiff’s ADA claim. Thus, the court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s case.
The above decision highlights the importance of hiring competent employment law counsel to help you navigate the issues involved in disability discrimination cases under the ADA. If you believe you’ve been unfairly treated because of a disability, call the Employment Litigation Group at Sommers Schwartz to review your case.