Magazine article HRMagazine

Temporary Impairment May Be 'Disability' under ADA

Magazine article HRMagazine

Temporary Impairment May Be 'Disability' under ADA

Article excerpt

Summers v. Altarum Inst. Corp., 4th Cir., No. 13-1645.

A temporary impairment may be a covered disability under the amended Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), according to a ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It is the first federal circuit court to apply the ADA Amendments Act's (ADAAA) expanded definition of the term "disability."

To prove a violation under the ADA, a plaintiffmust show, among other things, that he or she suffered from a disability. Under the ADA, a disability may take any of the following forms: 1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, 2) a record of such an impairment, or 3) being regarded as having such an impairment. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court in Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams adopted a strict construction of the term "disability" and suggested that a temporary impairment could not qualify under the ADA. In response, Congress passed the ADAAA in 2008. The legislation abrogated the Toyota decision, providing that the definition of disability "shall be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals ... to the maximum extent permitted" (42 U.S.C. Section 12102(4) (A)).

While traveling for work, Carl Summers, a senior analyst for the Altarum Institute, fell and sustained serious injuries to both of his legs. Doctors forbade Summers from putting any weight on his leftleg for six weeks and established that he would not be able to walk normally for seven months at the earliest. Without surgery, bed rest, pain medication and physical therapy, Summers alleged that he would likely not have been able to walk for more than a year after the accident. While hospitalized, Summers contacted Altarum's HR department to obtain short-term disability benefits and inquire about working from home as he recovered. The Altarum representative agreed to discuss accommodations that would allow Summers to return to work but suggested that he first take shortterm disability and focus on getting well. Summers also sent e-mails to his supervisors regarding returning to work and suggested a plan in which he would take short-term disability and then start working remotely part time. Altarum never followed up on Summers' request to discuss his return to work. Instead, after a month and a half, Altarum simply terminated Summers. …

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