Work Restrictions Alone Do Not Add Up to ADA Disability

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The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) substantially lowered the bar for plaintiffs to demonstrate a protected disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, on occasion we still see federal courts reject ADA claims on the basis that the employee is not disabled as defined under the ADA. Earlier this summer, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals relied on pre-ADAAA law to conclude that an employee’s work restrictions were not tantamount to an ADA disability.

In Booth v. Nissan North America, Inc., 10 years earlier the plaintiff was placed under permanent job restrictions relating to a neck injury. Those restrictions did not prevent him from performing his job, but when he applied for a transfer, he was told that the new job’s duties were incompatible with his medical restrictions. He eventually sued Nissan, claiming ADA discrimination and failure to accommodate his condition. The district court dismissed the claim on summary judgment.

The Sixth Circuit affirmed this decision, concluding among other things that the plaintiff had not met his burden of demonstrating that he was a protected disabled individual under the ADA. The court cited several pre-ADAAA cases for the proposition that work restrictions are not the same as a disability. ADAAA did not change the requirement that plaintiffs demonstrate that the condition interferes with a class or broad range of jobs, and not a particular function.

The plaintiff probably could have avoided this outcome if he had been more careful in describing his medical condition and its impact on his life in his initial pleadings. However, this case shows the continuing importance of employers carefully reviewing employees’ medical claims to determine if they are adequate to place them under the ADA’s protections. Even under the lower standard set by ADAAA, not every medical restriction is an ADA disability.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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