“Regarded as Disabled” under the ADA

In November of last year, an Illinois federal judge ruled in favor of the EEOC in a case against Amstead Rail Company. The court held that the company discriminated against applicants by requiring a medical screening which predicted the potential for applicants to develop carpal tunnel. Amstead screened applicants who had already accepted conditional employment offers pending the results of the medical test, and then, denied employment to all applicants who did not pass the screening or had a history of carpal tunnel. While the company argued that the tests were meant to protect workers from on the job injuries, the court found that the company’s practice denied applicants, who were otherwise ready and able to do the job, the opportunity to work. Because these applicants were regarded as disabled by the company and discriminated against as such even though they were otherwise a good fit for the job, the case was set to proceed to determine damages and remedies. This past Friday, June 8, 2018, the judge approved a settlement requiring the company to pay $4.4 million in back wages and damages to the individuals who were unlawfully denied employment.

The ADA defines “disability” as “(a) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of an individual; (b) a record of such an impairment; or (c) being regarded as having such an impairment.” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2). The “being regarded as having such an impairment” prong is designed to cover individuals rejected from a job because of the stereotypes and fears associated with disabilities. Id. In the 11th Circuit, courts have found that an employer violates the Americans with Disabilities Act when it makes an employment decision based on any impairment, either real or imagined, that is regarded as substantially limiting a major life activity. D’Angelo v. Conagra Foods, 422 F.3d 1220, 1221 (11th Cir. 2005). Therefore, similar to the case against Amstead, if an employer regards an applicant or worker as disabled, regardless of whether he or she actually has a disability, he or she is protected under the ADA.

Our Birmingham, Alabama employment law firm has handled a number of disability discrimination cases throughout the State of Alabama. If you are concerned about whether a particular medical exam is lawful or necessary as a condition to employment or if you feel you may have suffered discrimination on the basis of a disability please contact us at (205) 588-0699 for a free consultation to discuss your potential case.

 

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