As most employers (hopefully) know, the Americans with Disabilities Act sets forth strict guidelines for when employers can require employees or applicants to undergo medical examinations or when they can ask questions that might reveal a disability. And the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act restricts what employers can ask about the applicant/employee’s family medical conditions. Getting this wrong can cost the employer, as a recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the federal agency that enforces the ADA and other federal anti-discrimination laws) press release made clear. The EEOC gleefully announced that Dollar General agreed to settle an ADA and GINA lawsuit for $1,000,000 (!!!), based in part on illegal post-offer/pre-employment questions that were asked of applicants.Continue Reading An Applicant’s Family Medical History? Apparently, That’s the Million Dollar Question!
Being “on the spectrum” is a pretty common way of referring to individuals with autism (although my husband, a doctor, had never heard of that. Where has he been? Granted, he’s a pathologist, so doesn’t deal directly with live patients, but nonetheless…). Of course, there are varying degrees of severity of symptoms, and some people with social communication or interaction challenges do not actually have autism spectrum disorder. But these symptoms can pose challenges for those individuals in the workplace – and for their employers as well.
Continue Reading Employers, Are You Regarding Those Socially Awkward Employees as Disabled?
As I discussed in a blog post last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been bringing cases on behalf of applicants/employees who use lawfully prescribed opioids (including methadone) against employers who fail to conduct an individualized assessment of the applicant/employee to determine whether those drugs made them unqualified for the position. In EEOC v. Steel Painters LLC, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas held that a reasonable jury could find that the employer did just that.
Continue Reading Methadone User Can Sue Under ADA
And with that obvious (and rather snarky) statement, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit made the obvious point that an employee who was asleep or unconscious on the job was unable to perform the essential functions of his job and therefore not qualified for the position under the Americans with Disabilities Act! Now, as my regular readers know, I enjoy a good snark and my blog posts about various court decisions often contain snide comments. But in this case, the (usually quite proper) Fifth Circuit took care of that all on its own…
Continue Reading “[M]aintaining consciousness is a basic element of any job.”
Hey baseball fans, as well as all you casual observers of the sport. If you’re like me, you’ve noticed the huge spike in home runs (Commissioner Manfred says the balls are not juiced), some of the unexpected blockbuster trades just before last week’s trade deadline, and the emergence of young second generation stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. But there’s another significant development that you may have overlooked. I know I was asleep at the switch and did not see the news over the winter about the renaming of the Disabled List or DL, as it’s been called for over 100 years. Truth be told, as an employment and labor lawyer, I’ve always wondered about that term. When a player went on that list with a hamstring pull or a sprained ankle, was I to assume he was really disabled? Especially as that term is defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act? Of course not. Even though the ADA can sometimes be expanded to include even transient conditions, a player with a pulled hammy is not disabled.
Continue Reading Why Is Giancarlo Stanton on the Injured List, not the Disabled List?
A colleague recently brought to my attention a 2014 employment case written by then-Circuit Judge Gorsuch for a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit – a particularly interesting opinion that may give us hints as to how Justice Gorsuch may rule in future employment cases before the Supreme Court.
In Hwang v. Kansas State University, an assistant professor was diagnosed with cancer and received a six-month leave of absence. (In the opinion, Judge Gorsuch specifically noted it was a “(paid) leave.” Whether or not it was paid is irrelevant to the legal analysis, but his express mention of payment suggests approval of the employer’s actions as exceeding the norm). Towards the end of the six months, she requested additional leave of apparently another few months. The University, however, had an inflexible policy limiting leave to six months, and it denied her request. The professor then sued, claiming that the University’s inflexible leave policy violated the Rehabilitation Act.
Continue Reading Justice Gorsuch and the ADA?
Following up on my recent post, “Employer May Change Essential Functions of the Job,” I thought we’d discuss another little-mentioned aspect of essential job functions under the Americans with Disabilities Act – job functions that are rarely performed can still be essential!
As we’ve previously discussed, the ADA protects employees with disabilities who, with or without reasonable accommodations, are able to perform the essential functions of his/her job. The ADA regulations define “essential function” as “a fundamental job duty of a position.” But how do you determine what are the essential functions of a particular job? According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (which is the federal agency charged with enforcing the ADA) and the regulations, the following factors should be taken into account in determining whether a job function is essential:
Continue Reading Rarely Performed Job Functions May Still Be “Essential” Under ADA
As you may know, I love the quirky cases (like the Playgirl model who sued for sexual harassment). I recently came across a 2014 state case that falls into this category – the firefighter who is afraid of fire.
In City of Houston v. Proler, the captain of a firefighting crew refused to enter a burning apartment building, appearing to be frightened. He was reassigned to the training academy, but was eventually transferred back to active firefighting duty. Two years after the first incident, the captain arrived at a house fire. Again, he appeared to be frightened – unable to put on his equipment, take or give orders, and showing physical distress. He was hospitalized and diagnosed with “global transient amnesia.” Management (reasonably) considered this a “possibly dangerous situation,” and he was again reassigned to the training academy.
Nonetheless (and despite all common sense), the captain wanted to be reassigned to active firefighting. Because he was a union member, he filed a grievance under the collective bargaining agreement. Shockingly (to me), a hearing examiner ordered that he be returned to his fire suppression duties. Unsurprisingly (to me), the City appealed this decision to the trial court, at which point the captain brought claims against the City for disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Texas state law. Shockingly (to me), the jury found that the City had engaged in disability discrimination against the captain, although it awarded him no damages (he did get $362,000 in attorneys’ fees). Shockingly (to me) the Texas Court of Appeals affirmed the disability discrimination verdict.
Continue Reading Firefighter’s Fear of Fire Is Not Disability