Monday, August 13, 2012

Duhl on Over the Borderline — A Review of Margaret Price’s Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability in Academic Life

Duhl-GregoryWith all the serious and timely discussion of job security in the law professiorate and what-not, it appears particularly appropriate to bring to blog readers' attention this essay by Greg Duhl (William Mitchell):  Over the Borderline — A Review of Margaret Price’s Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability in Academic Life.  

It is part book review, part narrative, and part analytical. Here is the abstract:

This essay is about “madness” in higher education. In Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability in Academic Life, Professor Price analyzes the rhetoric and discourse surrounding mental disabilities in academia. In this essay, I place Price’s work in a legal context, suggesting why the Americans with Disabilities Act fails those with mental illness and why reform is needed to protect them. My own narrative as a law professor with Borderline Personality Disorder frames my critique. Narratives of mental illness are important because they help connect those who are often stigmatized and isolated due to mental illness and provide a framework for them to overcome barriers limiting their equal participation in academic life.

I happy to help Greg to spread the message on the importance of integrating faculty with mental illness. I believe this should be of interest to many readers of this blog and hopefully will spur a serious discussion on this topic.

PS

I have a favor. Would you possibly post a link to my lastest essay on your blog? It is part book review, part narrative, and part analytical. I would like to spread the message on the importance of integrating faculty with mental illness. I believe it would be of interest to readers of your blog.I have a favor. Would you possibly post a link to my lastest essay on your blog? It is part book review, part narrative, and part analytical. I would like to spread the message on the importance of integrating faculty with mental illness. I believe it would be of interest to readers of your blog.

August 13, 2012 in Disability, Scholarship, Worklife Issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Recently Published Scholarship

  • Charles P. Mileski, Those Lost but Not Forgotten: Applicants with Severe Disabilities, Title I of the ADA, and Retail Corporations, 40 Hofstra L. Rev. 553 (2011).

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July 14, 2012 in Disability, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Recently Published Scholarship

Ada

  • Jeanette Cox, Pregnancy as "Disability" and the Amended Americans with Disabilities Act, liii Boston College L. Rev. 443 (2012).
  • Charles P. Mileski, The Lost but Not Forgotten: Applicants with Severe Disabilities, Title I of the ADA, and Retail Corporations, 40 Hofstra L. Rev. 553 (2012).

rb

July 2, 2012 in Disability, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wasserman on Hosanna-Tabor and Jurisdiction

Faculty_WassermanHowardAnd in keeping with the federal courts/Supreme Court theme, Howard Wasserman (Florida International) has a really interesting essay on the Supreme Court's holding in Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran School v. EEOC that the ministerial exception is not jurisdictional in PENNumbra: Prescriptive Jurisdiction, Adjudicative Jurisdiction, and the Ministerial Exception. From the introduction:

Hosanna-Tabor correctly characterized the ministerial exemption as a limitation on the merits of the employment discrimination claim.  I repeatedly argued for this position before the Court entered the mix, including in this Essay, which was written and accepted for publication in October 2011 (before the Court discovered unanimity and thus was able to decide the case fairly quickly).  But the Court’s jurisdictionality footnote was entirely conclusory, failing to explain why the issue controls whether the plaintiff’s allegations entitle him to relief rather than whether the court has power to hear the case.

It thus remains to unpack why the exemption is, in fact, a merits doctrine.  First, doing so demonstrates the correctness of the conclusion in  Hosanna-Tabor, putting to rest any normative dispute on the issue.  Second, mischaracterization of the ministerial exemption resulted from the same category errors that plague characterization of other legal issues; this issue illustrates nicely the routine conflation of jurisdiction and merits and courts’ failure to maintain clean lines between doctrines and underlying concepts. While the Court’s conclu-sion that the exemption is merits-based might be enough to signal lower courts on future jurisdictionality issues, actual analysis and explanation may better enable them to understand and recognize the limits of what goes to jurisdiction and, inversely, the breadth of what goes to substantive merits.

This Essay, I hope, provides that analysis.

I haven't had a chance yet to read the whole thing carefully, but what I've seen so far is a great discussion of an issue vexing to courts, litigants, and scholars alike.

MM

March 21, 2012 in Commentary, Disability, Employment Discrimination, Religion, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 9, 2012

4th Circuit ADHD-as-Disability Opinion

AdhdLong-term blog reader Jon Harkavy (Patterson & Harkavy) sends us word of this Fourth Circuit decision.  I'm stealing his description of the case:

[Halpern v. Wake Forest University Health Sciences is a ] Fourth Circuit decision issued earlier this week involving the discharge from medical school of a student afflicted with ADHD.  The panel unanimously rejected his ADA claim, holding that he was not "qualified" with or without accommodation of his disability.  The opinion is noteworthy for its clarity on how this kind of claim is to be analyzed and for its definition of the degree of deference to be shown to a medical school's decision about allowing its students to pursue a degree in order to become a physician.

rb

March 9, 2012 in Disability | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Seventh Circuit Invites En Banc Petition for ADA Case of Accommodation

BagenstosSSam Bagenstos (Michigan) brings to our attention an important on-going case in the Seventh Circuit concerning the scope of the reasonable accommodation right under the ADA.

Some highlights from Sam's post on his blog, the Disbaility Law Blog, entitled: Seventh Circuit Panel Invites En Banc Petition Regarding Reassignment:

As ADA mavens know, there is a persistent conflict in the circuits regarding the scope of an employer's duty, as a reasonable accommodation, to reassign an employee with a disability to a vacant position.  The Tenth and D.C. Circuits have held that, when an employee acquires a disability that makes her unable to perform the essential functions of her current position even with a reasonable accommodation, the employer has a duty to reassign the employee to an equivalent, vacant position for which she is qualified -- whether or not she is the "most" qualified applicant for that position.  The Seventh and Eighth Circuits have held that the reassignment duty is satisfied so long as the employer gives the employee the opportunity to apply for a vacant, equivalent position, but that the employer may refuse to give the new position to the employee if she is not the most qualified applicant.  The Supreme Court granted cert. to resolve this conflict in Huber v. Wal-Mart Stores in 2007, but it dismissed the writ of certiorari after the parties settled.  (Disclosure: I was one of Huber's counsel in the Supreme Court.)

Today, a panel of the Seventh Circuit issued an opinion that invited an en banc petition asking it to change its position on this issue.  Here's the key language, from a case entitled EEOC v. United Air Lines, Inc.:

    In this case, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) asks this court to change its interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. (ADA). The EEOC contends that the ADA requires employers to reassign employees, who will lose their current positions due to disability, to a vacant position for which they are qualified. However, this court has already held, in EEOC v. Humiston-Keeling, 227 F.3d 1024, 1029 (7th Cir. 2000), that the ADA has no such requirement. The EEOC argues that the Supreme Court’s ruling in US Airways, Inc. v. Barnett, 535 U.S. 391 (2002), undermines Humiston-Keeling. Several courts in this circuit have relied on Humiston-Keeling in post-Barnett opinions, though it appears that these courts did not conduct a detailed analysis of Humiston-Keeling’s continued vitality. In accordance with this circuit’s case law, we affirm the district court’s holding that the ADA does not mandate reassignment. However, this circuit might reconsider the impact of Barnett on Humiston-Keeling.

Should be an interesting case to watch out for.

PS  

Seventh Circuit Panel Invites En Banc Petition Regarding Reassignment

March 7, 2012 in Disability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

EREPJ Call for Papers on Disability Discrimination

ErepjSteve Willborn sends us the following call for papers:

The Employee Rights & Employment Policy Journal is sponsoring a symposium issue dedicated to disability discrimination and the law.  Although all papers within this topical area will be considered, papers with particular emphasis on the ADA Amendments will be given special consideration.  The symposium issue is scheduled for publication as the first issue of 2013.  The symposium editor is Professor Ramona L. Paetzold of Texas A & M University.  Please submit all manuscripts to her no later than Friday, August 24, for consideration in the symposium issue.  Papers should be submitted in Word via email attachment to Prof. Paetzold.  Please direct all questions to this email address as well.

rb

February 22, 2012 in Disability, Employment Discrimination, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Porter on ADA Coverage

PorterNicole Porter (Toledo) has just posted on SSRN her article Martinizing Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Here's the abstract:

Prior to the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, relatively few cases proceeded past the initial inquiry of whether the plaintiff was covered by the ADA. Consequently, the scope of an employer’s obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation to an individual with a disability remains under-developed and under-theorized. Now that the Amendments have made it easier for a plaintiff to prove he has a disability under the ADA, we can expect to see more courts struggling with many difficult reasonable accommodation issues. The current case law is chaotic, providing little guidance to employers and courts in determining whether an accommodation is reasonable, and making it impossible to discern any unified principle to explain the chaotic results. This Article does just that. It identifies the scope of an employer’s obligation to reasonably accommodate its employees by proposing a unified approach to the reasonable accommodation provision.

I am facilitated in this endeavor by relying on a case under Title III, the public accommodations Title of the ADA. In PGA Tour, Inc. v. Martin, ...

Continue reading

February 19, 2012 in Disability, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

OFCCP Extends Comment Period/Promoting Employment of People with Disabilities

DolThe Office of Federal Contracts Compliance Programs has extended the comment period for for its proposed rule to revise regulations implementing Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which obligates most federal contractors and subcontractors to ensure equal employment opportunity for qualified workers with disabilities.

From the press release:

On Dec. 9, 2011, OFCCP published a notice of proposed rulemaking in 76 Federal Register 77056 with a comment period originally set to end on Feb. 7, 2012. After reviewing requests for an extension, OFCCP has extended the comment period by 14 days until Tuesday, Feb. 21. This action will provide additional time for interested parties to analyze the issues raised in the proposal and to provide their comments. Individuals and organizations who already have submitted comments may use the extension period to revise or add to their original comments.

To learn more about the proposed rule and submit comments, visit http://www.dol.gov/ofccp/503. The rule proposed by OFCCP would strengthen the affirmative action and reporting obligations of federal contractors by requiring them to set a hiring goal of having 7 percent of their employees be qualified workers with disabilities. The proposed changes also detail mandatory actions contractors would have to take in the areas of recruitment, training, record-keeping and dissemination of affirmative action policies ‒ obligations similar to those that have long been required to promote workplace equality for women and minorities. In addition, the rule would clarify OFCCP’s expectations of contractors by providing specific guidance on how to comply with the law.

Parties who filed comments previously may supplement or submit additional comments during the extended comment period. Parties interested in commenting can view the NPRM and submit comments by using the Federal eRulemaking Portal www.regulations.gov and referencing RIN 1250-AA02. This is another great opportunity to have students participate in the rulemaking process

Hat tip: Patricia Schaeffer, EEOIMPACT LLC

MM

February 9, 2012 in Beltway Developments, Disability, Employment Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Defining Disability Under the ADAAA

MaslankaOver at Work Matters, Michael Maslanka has a nice post on a recent case from W. D. Texas illustrating the new, broad definition of "disability" under the ADA Amendments Act.

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February 6, 2012 in Disability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Upcoming Disability Law Conferences

Pac

Thanks to Paul Harpur (T.C. Beirne in Brisbane) for sending word of two upcoming disability law conferences:

rb

January 13, 2012 in Conferences & Colloquia, Disability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tomorrow's Argument in Coleman v. Maryland Ct. of Appeals

SupctAlthough this Supreme Court term has fewer employment and labor cases or at least fewer foundation-shaking employment and labor cases than the last few terms, that does not mean that there is nothing to pay attention to. Case in point: Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals, which will be argued tomorrow on FMLA leave for state employees.

It's a case that brings together two of my favorite topics, family and medical leave and the 11th Amendment. But wait, you might be thinking, didn't the Court already deal with the FMLA and the 11th Amendment in Nevada Dep't of Human Resources v. Hibbs, and didn't the Court find that Congress could subject the states to suits for damages for FMLA violations? The answer would be, yes, but . . . 

You might recall that the plaintiff in Hibbs was a state employee who took leave to care for his sick spouse. He was fired after he exhausted his leave, and he sued under the FMLA's cause of action allowing an employee to sue for damages for interference with, restraint of, or the denial of exercise of FMLA rights. Generally, the 11th Amendment (really actually Article III, but that's kind of a technical federal courts argument that I won't go into here) prohibits suits against unconsenting states for money damages. Congress can abrogate that immunity when it acts validly under the 14th Amendment. In Hibbs, the Court found that the FMLA was validly enacted under the 14th Amendment because it was designed to promote women's equality by ensuring that leave could be taken by both sexes and by encouraging both sexes to take that leave. Traditionally, women have engaged in the bulk of caregiving for young children or adult family members with serious health needs.

That didn't necessarily end the issue, though. Since Hibbs, the Court has increasingly taken an "as applied" approach in its abrogation cases. You might be familiar with Tennessee v. Lane for example, where the Court found that Congress had validly abrogated state sovereign immunity in Title II of the ADA at least insofar as it provided damages actions against states for not providing access to the courts or for inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on prisoners. This stood in stark contrast to Bd. of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett, where the Court held that Title I of the ADA was not validly enacted under the 14th Amendment, and so Congress could not subject the states to suits for violations of the act.

Which sets the stage for Coleman. The plaintiff in Hibbs took leave to care for his spouse--an act that is still somewhat unusual for men and certainly not consistent with stereotyped expectations of male gender behavior. The FMLA is the Family and Medical Leave Act, though. It mandates leave for people to care for their own serious health conditions as well. The self-care provision might seem more analogous to disabilities and things protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (not valid under the 14th Amendment) rather than a part of an effort to disrupt discriminatory patterns on the basis of sex (valid under the 14th Amendment).

The plaintiff has argued that the self-care leave is a part of the effort to disrupt discriminatory patterns on the basis of sex, pointing to employer hesitation to hire women because of a perception that they would be more likely to need leave for their own pregnancy-related health issues. The state of Maryland argues that the self-care provision is designed to prohibit discrimination against those with serious health issues, more like the ADA, and even if it were related to sex discrimination, such a remedy is not congruent and proportional to what the 14th Amendment would provide and so not within Congress's abrogation powers.

It will be interesting to see whether the changes in membership on the Court since Hibbs change the tenor of the argument or the Court's approach.

Update: Here's the transcript. No real surprises, although you can see the Justices arguing with each other through their questions more than usual.

MM

January 10, 2012 in Disability, Employment Discrimination, Public Employment Law, Worklife Issues | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cox on Pregnancy & the ADA

CoxJeannette Cox (Dayton) has just posted on SSRN her article (forthcoming Boston College L. Rev.) Pregnancy as 'Disability' and the Amended Americans with Disabilities Act.  Here's the abstract:

The recent expansion of the ADA’s protected class invites reexamination of the assumption that pregnant workers may not use the ADA to obtain workplace accommodations. The ADA’s scope now includes persons with minor temporary physical limitations comparable to pregnancy’s physical effects. Accordingly, the primary remaining justification for concluding that pregnant workers may not obtain ADA accommodations is that pregnancy is a physically healthy condition rather than a physiological defect.

Drawing on the social model of disability, this article challenges the assumption that medical diagnosis of “defect” must be a prerequisite to disability accommodation eligibility. The social model defines “disability” not as an impairment located within an individual’s body but as the interaction between the individual’s body and her social environment. Within this framework, workers may experience pregnancy, a healthy biological state, as a workplace “disability.” Accordingly, now that workers with temporary physical limitations comparable to pregnancy may receive ADA accommodations, courts should conclude that the ADA’s goal to reshape the workplace to accommodate previously excluded persons extends to pregnancy.

rb

November 21, 2011 in Disability, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

ABA Directory for Disability Rights

AbaCarol Furnish (NKU Chase) sends word of the new ABA Directory for Disability Rights.  This first-of-its-kind online directory provides information about state and local bar associations that: (1) offer support to lawyers with disabilities or disability diversity, or (2) handle substantive areas of disability law.

rb

November 17, 2011 in Disability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Impact of DSM Revisions on Labor/Employment Laws

DsmDavid Foley over at LaborRelated has a terrific post about the ongoing process of revising the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).  David explains that

the debate about the [proposed] changes is a good thing to keep an eye on because although inclusion of a condition in the DSM-IV has not been completely synonymous with coverage under various employment laws, the courts have often looked to it for guidance.  Among others, the changes in the DSM-V could impact Americans with Disabilities Act claims (is the plaintiff disabled, what is a reasonable accommodation, etc), Family Medical Leave Act claims (does plaintiff suffer from a serious illness) and workers compensation laws (does plaintiff have an illness and was it caused by work).

David's post is extensive, discusses several of the proposed changes, and is worth a close read.

rb

November 14, 2011 in Disability, Employment Common Law | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Amicus Signing Opportunity in Hosanna-Tabor

Griffin Ccorbin Leslie Griffin (Houston) and Caroline Mala Corbin (Miami) have drafted an amicus brief and are looking for signatories.  Here's their description (from Feminist Law Professors; hat tip Jessica Roberts):

We have drafted an amicus brief for law professors in the Hosanna-Tabor case, which involves a ministerial exception to employment laws and has important implications for gender discrimination.

Cheryl Perich was a kindergarten and fourth grade teacher at Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School, a K-8 school in Redford, Michigan. After she became suddenly ill at a school event, Hosanna-Tabor granted her a disability leave of absence and assured her that she would still have a job when she returned. After her narcolepsy was treated and her doctor cleared her to return to work, however, school officials questioned whether she was better and urged Perich to resign voluntarily from her position. After Perich told the principal that she would sue for disability discrimination, she was fired.  Correspondence from the school indicates that she lost her job because of her insubordination and her threats to take legal action.

Continue reading

July 27, 2011 in Disability, Employment Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Senn on Discriminatory Paternalism

Senn Craig Senn (Loyola - New Orleans) has just posted his article (58 UCLA L. Rev. 947) Fixing Inconsistent Paternalism Under Federal Employment Discrimination Law.  I saw his abstract last November, and have been looking forward to the opportunity to read the entire article.  It was worth the wait.  Here's the abstract:

At present, our federal employment discrimination laws fail to provide uniform and consistent legal protection when an employer engages in applicant-specific paternalism – the practice of excluding an applicant merely to protect that person from job-related safety and/or health risks uniquely attributable to his or her federally-protected characteristic(s). Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the courts and the EEOC reject such paternalism, demanding that the applicant alone decide whether to pursue (and accept) a job that poses risks related to his or her sex, race, color, religion, or national origin. In contrast, under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the courts and the EEOC allow applicant-specific paternalism, thereby permitting an employer to seize decision-making power from a disabled applicant.

Consequently, the validity of an excluded applicant’s employment discrimination claim regrettably depends on a single factor or variable: the at-issue protected characteristic. The "favored" characteristic (i.e., a Title VII characteristic) yields a viable claim. But, the "disfavored" characteristic (i.e., an ADA disability) produces a losing claim.

This Article proposes a new approach – termed “informational paternalism” – that brings needed uniformity and consistency of legal protection in the area of applicant-specific paternalism. This middle-ground approach has two features: a blanket prohibition of applicant-specific paternalism, and a job-related risk notification requirement. Together, these two features are justified because they: (a) reflect a longstanding philosophy of both Congress and the Supreme Court that rejects an employer’s applicant-specific protective purpose as an unacceptable basis for excluding an applicant; (b) serve to fully advance federal anti-discrimination policy; and (c) embrace a philosophy shared by Congress and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that seeks to protect workers by providing them with information relevant to their employment-related decisions (rather than by seizing their decision-making power).

rb

July 11, 2011 in Disability, Employment Discrimination, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Verizon Settles EEOC Disability Suit Based on No-Fault Attendance Policy

V The EEOC reports that Verizon has settled for $20 million a nationwide suit filed by the EEOC alleging that the company's no-fault attendance policy violates the ADA.  Here's an excerpt from the EEOC press release:

The consent decree settling the suit, which is pending judicial approval, represents the largest disability discrimination settlement in a single lawsuit in EEOC history.  The EEOC charged that Verizon violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by refusing to make exceptions to its “no fault” attendance plans to accommodate employees with disabilities.  Under the challenged attendance plans, if an employee accumulated a designated number of “chargeable absences,” Verizon placed the employee on a disciplinary step which could ultimately result in more serious disciplinary consequences, including termination.

***

In addition to the $20 million in monetary relief, the three-year decree includes injunctions against engaging in any discrimination or retaliation based on disability, and requires the company to revise its attendance plans, policies and ADA policy to include reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities, including excusing certain absences.  Verizon will provide mandatory periodic training on the ADA to employees primarily responsible for administering Verizon’s attendance plans.  The company will report to the EEOC about all employee complaints of disability discrimination relating to the attendance policy and about Verizon’s compliance with the consent decree.  The company also agreed to post a notice about the settlement.  Finally, Verizon will appoint an internal consent decree monitor to ensure its compliance.  The settlement applies to certain Verizon wireline operations nationwide which employ union-represented employees.

rb

July 6, 2011 in Disability, Employment Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Areheart on Disability as a Social Construct

Are Brad Areheart (Visiting at Stetson) has just posted on SSRN his article (forthcoming Yale Law & Policy Rev.) Disability Trouble.  His topic is dear to my heart -- it's one that I cut my teeth on in one of my first articles, shortly after the ADA became law (dates me, I know).  Here's the abstract:

In the 1960s, the term “gender” emerged in the academic literature to indicate the socially constructed nature of being a man or woman. The gender/sex binary soon became standard academic fare, with sex representing biology and gender representing sex’s social construct. However, in the 1980s feminists became concerned the gender/sex binary – by effectively designating sex as non-social – left room for biological determinism. These feminists made “gender trouble” in part by arguing biological sex was a social concept. The resulting scholarship on sex and gender enriched feminist thought and catalyzed civil rights through an expansion of legal protections.

An almost identical binary exists for disability, the disablement/ impairment binary, in which writers characterize disablement as the social construct, and impairment as the disabled person’s body. This disability binary has received sparse critical attention; while few legal scholars have provided ringing endorsements, none have provided a systematic critique of the binary or examined the legal implications attendant to such a critique. Yet, just as with legal scholarship on gender and sex, there are important legal implications to making further sense of the meaning of disability.

In this Article, I make disability trouble by arguing disability is more socially constructed than acknowledged. In particular, and contrary to most literature, I argue that biological impairment is itself a social concept. Initially, I explain how impairment, according to those who coined the disability binary, appears to be little more than diagnosis. From there, I argue, using concrete examples, that both the creation of diagnoses and acts of diagnosis are social processes. Finally, I examine the legal implications of disability trouble.

rb

June 21, 2011 in Disability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Important ADA Case on Working as a Major Life Activity, Regarded As, and Retaliation

Scarywork Although we're winding down on pre-amendment ADA cases, the Seventh Circuit just issued one that may have significant implications for post-amendment cases as well. In Miller v. Ill. Dep't of Trans., the court considered when work can be considered a major life activity, when an employee will be considered to be regarded as disabled, whether a proposed accommodation was reasonable, and whether there was an issue of material fact on the plaintiff's retaliation claim. Most of these issues will continue to be at least as important (and maybe more so) under the amendments, although they might be framed a little differently, so the case is worth analyzing in some depth.

The plaintiff, Darrell Miller, worked for IDOT for five years as a highway maintainer on a bridge crew before he was discharged. Miller had a serious fear of heights, later diagnosed as acrophobia, and he notified his supervisor that he would not be able to work unsecured in extreme positions above certain heights. The supervisor accommodated this limitation, and accommodated the limitations of other members of the crew too. Each member would do work they could and fill in where other members could not. Miller could do about 97% of all of the work the crew did, and there was only one occasion in which he was not able to perform a task. That occasion led to his discharge and this lawsuit.

After a number of years without any problems, Miller's supervisor ordered him to do a task that he would have to stand unsecured on a bridge beam for. Miller tried but had a panic attack and couldn't complete the task. He was taken by ambulance to a hospital. After this incident, Miller was diagnosed with acrophobia, and Miller characterized his limitation as not being able to work above 20 feet in an unsecured, extreme position. IDOT treated him, though, as if he could never work above 20 feet or where he might think he was above 20 feet. Something he had been doing fine (as long as he was secured) for years. A memo to the IDOT personnel department interpreted this already broad limitation even more broadly to include any work in which a person might be able to see that they were significantly higher than a surface below them (able to see through holes in a bridge's road surface, on a steep hill, etc.). The memo suggested that there was no IDOT highway job that Miller could do.

The court of appeals found that Miller had created a material issue of fact on whether IDOT considered him disabled from working. To be disabled from working, a person must be disabled from a broad class of jobs, not just the particular job at issue. The key here was that the "regarded as" standard is subjective, and IDOT essentially admitted that it perceived Miller to be disabled from a broad class of jobs in its memo. Thus, it regarded him as substantially impaired and unable to work generally.

On the accommodations request, the court found that a reasonable jury could either find that the work Miller could not do was not an essential function of his job or that the accommodation to have other members of the bridge crew do it was reasonable since that was how the crew as a whole had been functioning for years.

On the retaliation claim, when Miller had requested an accommodation, a personnel employee told him that the IDOT did not grant requests, and she denied the accommodation. Miller was ordered back to work, though, and when he returned to work, he called the personnel employee who had refused his accommodation request "Arch Enemy Number 1," and while he said he had never hit a woman before, he commented that he "sometimes . . . would like to knock her teeth out." Miller was fired for insubordination. This may sound bad, but Miller produced evidence that his supervisor had threatened coworkers a number of times and even threatened to kill three of them, but was never disciplined. That plus the timing of his discharge--his first day back--was enough to create a genuine issue of material fact on the reason for his termination.

Post amendment implications: Miller likely had to go with the "regarded as" prong for his ADA case because he might not have been considered disabled under the definitions that had been established under the statute. Under the amended version, he likely would be considered disabled from working at a broad class of jobs his training suited him for, or perhaps from maintaining cognitive and appropriate physical functions regardless of height. The expansive definition of a disability and the explicit inclusion of working as a major life activity would likely cover him, making the regarded as claim unnecessary. If Miller was only regarded as disabled, though, he might have a problem under the amendments. The duty to accommodate does not seem to apply to individuals who are only regarded as disabled, and so if Miller was only regarded as disabled under the amendments, he would not be entitled to an accommodation that he be relieved from some of the duties of the bridge crew. Still, the essential functions and reasonable accommodations analysis (if he would be disabled under the amendments) gives some guidance to how those should be analyzed under the amendments, since they did not change.

Hat tip: Mark Weber

MM

May 23, 2011 in Disability, Employment Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)