ADA's "Substantial" Not as "Substantial" as it Used to Be

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February 6, 2014 — 2,447 views  
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 The U.S Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, reversed a dismissal from the District Court on an ADA claim, ruling that temporary impairment from injuries can also be constituted as a disability under ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

Prior to the ruling

Carl Summers, a senior analyst at Altarum Institute, had to commute to one of his client's office for on-site work. In 2011, Summers got injured while stepping out of a train, when he was commuting to the office of the client. The injury resulted in a fracture on his left leg and right ankle, with a torn tendon in the left knee and ruptured tendon in the right leg. Doctors advised Summers to stay away from any activity that would strain the left leg for six weeks saying he would take a minimum of seven months to start walking normally again. Summers claimed that without pain medication, bed rest, physical therapy and surgery, he wouldn't have possibly walked normally for over a year. Altarum did not follow-up on request made by Summers regarding his return back to work, although the insurance provider had granted him disability benefits that feature under short-time benefits. Altarum then terminated his employment, and replaced him, following which, he moved to the District Court to file a lawsuit.

The Court Proceedings

Summers' asserted two claims, one that Altrum had wrongfully discharged him, as a discriminating act due to his disability, and secondly that it had not accommodated his disability. The court rejected both his claims, after which he filed another lawsuit on the same grounds. His claims were dismissed again, on grounds that he had not asserted his disability. The Court said that the defendant cannot be counted as disabled under the Act as a temporary condition, that falls under a year, cannot be considered a disability. It also dismissed his second claim, stating that he had asserted an unreasonable accommodation request, as it would mean eliminating an important function as part of his job role.

Summers then appealed to the Fourth Circuit. Summers asserted that under ADA's definition of “disability”, his impairment limited his walking ability “substantially”, which can be regarded as one among the “major life activities”, which qualifies his disability. The “disability” definition was broadened by the Congress through the Amendments Act in 2008. The Fourth Circuit ruled that as per the purpose and text of the Act, made it clear that Summers' impairment can be constituted as a disability, thus reversing the District Court's decision.

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