ADA Disability Discrimination: Employee with Back Injury Limiting Ability to Walk, Stand and Sit Has Discrimination Claims

An employer cannot discriminate against an employee based on a disability or a need for leave from work to treat a disability. Disability discrimination cases often involve a dispute over the legal definition of disability In McFadden v. Biomedical Systems Corp., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2363(E. D. Pa. January 9, 2014 (Savage, J.), the Plaintiff employee suffered from herniated discs in his back, which caused pain and limited his ability to walk, stand and sit for extended periods of time. Although the back condition did not prohibit the employee from working in his job as a director of business development, he infrequently needed “a reasonable accommodation” and the employee apprised his supervisor of his health condition and limitations. When the employee’s health condition deteriorated, he took a day off to attend a doctor’s appointment, management expressed displeasure when the employee advised management that he could not attend a meeting with a colleague because he had to keep the doctor’s appointment as he was experiencing increasing pain in his back. After the doctor’s appointment, the employee informed his employer that his doctor recommended that he undergo a spinal fusion and/or microdiscectomy surgery to treat his back problems. The employee then requested a two-three week medical leave for the surgery. The employer expressed concern about the duration of the leave and approximately one week after the employee attended his doctor’s appointment, shortly after he requested medical leave, the employee was terminated.

In McFadden, the Plaintiff employee filed a complaint alleging that his termination was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) because the termination of employment was based on his health problems, his record of health problems and his request for an accommodation and the employer failed to accommodate him when it did not grant a leave from work to undergo surgery.

To state a cause of action for discrimination under the ADA, the plaintiff must allege that he (1) is “disabled” within the meaning of the ADA; (2) is otherwise qualified to perform, with or without reasonable accommodations, the essential functions of his job; and (3) has suffered an adverse employment decision as a result of the discrimination. In McFadden, the employer contended that the employee did not sufficiently allege that he has a disability within the meaning of the ADA. The court noted that under the ADA, a person is disabled if he (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) has a record of the impairment; or, (3) is regarded as having such an impairment and when Congress passed the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) it clarified that the phrase “substantially limits” is not intended “to be a demanding standard.” The court noted that there is no dispute that walking, sitting and standing are major life activities and that the employee’s herniated discs limit his ability to walk, stand and sit for “long periods of time”, thus, given the ADAAA’s liberalized standards, the employee has an impairment that shows he is actually disabled.

The court also found that the employee had sufficiently plead a “regarded as disabled claim” which requires (1) a physical or mental impairment that does not substantially limit major life activities but is treated by his employer as having such limitation; (2) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits major life activities only as a result of the attitudes of others toward the impairment; or (3) has no such impairment but is treated by his employer as having a substantially limiting impairment. The court noted that a close temporal proximity between the dates an employer learns of an employee’s physical or mental impairment and the employee’s termination is sufficient to raise an inference of “regarded as” disability discrimination and given that the employee was fired within less than a week of his request for medical leave, his allegations of a close temporal proximity between his request for leave and his termination support an inference that the employer regarded him as disabled.

In McFadden the court also found the Plaintiff employee sufficiently plead a failure to accommodate a disability claim because the plaintiff alleged that the employer refused to make reasonable accommodations to his known physical or mental condition where the employer did not provide him with a reasonable accommodation as required by the ADA because it did not allow the employee to take a medical leave to undergo surgery and instead, fired him within a week of his requesting leave because a medical leave to undergo surgery is a reasonable accommodation.

For more information on the Americans with Disabilities Act, Disability Discrimination and Abramson Employment Law see


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Filed under Americans with Disabilities Act - Disability Discrimination, Employment Law

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