Employee Discrimination Cases Involving Job Applicants with Disabilities Now Enjoy a More Lenient Interpretation of Physical Impairment

Employees with denied disability claims were recently given more hope. A court decision in January 2016 demonstrates the more lenient standards that now apply to disability claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA). In a decision in the case Cannon v. Jacobs Field Services North America, Inc., the Fifth Circuit reversed a summary judgment that a lower court had granted in favor of the employer. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decides appeals of the rulings by federal district courts in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

The ADA prohibits discrimination in the workplace against persons with disabilities. The ADA was significantly amended by the ADAAA. Those amendments became effective in January 2009. The ADAAA relaxed some of the legal standards under the ADA and made it easier for individuals with disabilities to obtain protection and pursue disability discrimination claims against employers.

The lawyers at Kilgore & Kilgore have an abundance of experience in counseling employees under the ADA and litigating denied disability claims on their behalf. If you believe that an employer has unfairly discriminated against you because of your disability, click here Disability Discrimination Attorney  to connect with a Kilgore & Kilgore attorney for a free review of the facts of your case.

In Cannon, the plaintiff Michael Cannon (Cannon) was offered a job by Jacob Field Services (JFS) as a field engineer at a Colorado mining site. However, JFS revoked its employment offer soon after it learned that Cannon had a rotator cuff impairment that prevented him from lifting his right arm above the shoulder. JFS informed Cannon that it was rescinding its employment offer due to his inability to climb a ladder. Cannon’s efforts to show JFS that he could climb a ladder and to discuss his injury and limitations were unsuccessful.

For purposes of the ADA, a person suffers from a disability if that person has “a physical … impairment that “substantially limits” one or more major life activities.” The ADAAA relaxed the definition of disability by clarifying that the substantially limits language is not an especially demanding standard and favors broad coverage. Moreover, the ADA and its regulations now specifically include lifting, reaching, and numerous other activities in its list of major life activities. The Fifth Circuit, contrary to the district court’s conclusion that Cannon was not disabled, found that Cannon had presented sufficient evidence showing that his shoulder injury was a qualifying disability under the ADA.

Furthermore, the Fifth Circuit found that there was a second reason that Cannon satisfied the disability test under the ADA. The ADA not only covers persons with disabilities, but it also covers persons who are “regarded as having … an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity.”  The Fifth Circuit found sufficient evidence in the record showing that JFS perceived Cannon’s shoulder injury to be a physical impairment.

Under the ADA, Cannon was required not only to show that he was disabled or regarded as disabled, but also, to show that he was qualified for the job of field engineer. In order to be qualified for the job at issue, a plaintiff must show that he can perform the essential functions of the job in spite of his disability or with a reasonable accommodation of his disability. JFS argued that driving a company vehicle and climbing a ladder were essential functions of the field engineer job that Cannon was unable to do. The Fifth Circuit, again contrary to the district court’s determination that Cannon was not qualified for the job, found sufficient evidence in the record that Cannon was able to drive and some evidence that Cannon could climb a ladder despite his impairment, raising fact issues for a jury to determine. Thus, summary judgment for JFS was inappropriate on this basis, as well. Having reversed JFS’s summary judgment, the Fifth Circuit remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings.

Kilgore & Kilgore has disability claims attorneys with exactly the skill and experience required to counsel and represent you in your denied disability claim against your employer. To learn more about our disability claims practice, click here Employee Rights Attorney. To contact Kilgore & Kilgore through our website, click here Disability Claims Attorneys. We offer a free review of the facts of your case with a lawyer for employee rights.

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