Employment Discrimination Law - Sixth Circuit Denies Standing to Former Smployees under Title I of Americans with Disabilities Act - McKnight V. General Motors Corporation

By Dolan, Jeffrey E. | Suffolk University Law Review, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Employment Discrimination Law - Sixth Circuit Denies Standing to Former Smployees under Title I of Americans with Disabilities Act - McKnight V. General Motors Corporation


Dolan, Jeffrey E., Suffolk University Law Review


Employment Discrimination Law--Sixth Circuit Denies Standing to Former Employees Under Title I of Americans With Disabilities Act--McKnight v. General Motors Corporation, 550 F.3d 519 (6th Cir. 2008)

Pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer may not discriminate against an employee on the basis of a disability with respect to most aspects of employment, including the provision of fringe benefits. (1) In order to have standing to bring suit under Title I of the ADA (Title I), a plaintiff must be a "qualified individual" with a disability. (2) In McKnight v. General Motors Corp., (3) the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit considered, in light of the United States Supreme Court's holding in Robinson v. Shell Oil Co., (4) whether disabled former employees have standing to bring suit under Title I "against their former employers for discrimination with respect to the payment of post-employment fringe benefits." (5) The Sixth Circuit held that Title I unambiguously excludes former disabled employees and denied standing to the plaintiffs. (6)

Leroy McKnight, Nicholas Klayo, and Robert Griffin (plaintiffs)--former employees of General Motors Corporation (GM)--accepted supplemental early retirement options provided in their pension plans. (7) The GM pension plans required GM to pay these early retirement benefits until a retiree became eligible for Social Security benefits. (8) The plan further provided that once a retiree became eligible for Social Security benefits, an amount equal to the Social Security payment would be deducted from the early retirement supplement. (9) After retirement, all three plaintiffs became disabled and successfully applied for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (SSDIB). (10) As a result, their retirement benefits were reduced by the amount received in SSDIB. (11)

McKnight filed suit against GM in federal district court, alleging that the provision requiring a deduction in early retirement benefits upon qualification for Social Security violated the ADA. (12) The complaint was later amended to add the other plaintiffs because they had similar claims. (13) The district court granted GM's motion for summary judgment after determining that the plaintiffs lacked standing under Title I. (14) The plaintiffs then appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which affirmed the district court's judgment that the plaintiffs lacked standing under Title I. (15)

Congress enacted the ADA in 1990 to provide the same protection against discrimination to people with disabilities that had been available under federal law to victims of discrimination on the basis of sex, race, and other traits under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (16) Title I of the ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against a "qualified individual" on the basis of his or her disability with respect to most aspects of employment. (17) The statute defines a qualified individual as "an individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires." (18) The Sixth Circuit first addressed whether Title I's definition of qualified individuals excludes former employees in Parker v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. (Parker I). (19) In Parker I, the Sixth Circuit examined the plain language of the statute and held that the plaintiff lacked standing because she could no longer perform the essential requirements of her job with or without reasonable accommodation, and was thus not a qualified individual. (20) At the time the Sixth Circuit decided Parker I, other circuits also construed Title I as inapplicable to former employees who were no longer able to perform their jobs. (21)

Shortly after the Sixth Circuit issued Parker I, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Robinson v. Shell Oil Co., (22) which held that the term "employees" in section 704(a) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 included former employees. …

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