April 11, 2019

Court Finds Employer May Have Perceived Employee to Be Disabled

In a recent 6th Circuit case, the court considered a claim of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), alleging discrimination based on an employee’s actual disability as well as perceived disability. The employer testified that it fired an employee because of his “excessive absenteeism and failure to perform his job duties.”  But that’s not what the employee’s supervisor said when he fired the employee. The supervisor told the employee he was fired for his “health issues and doctor’s appointments.” So, when the employer asked the court to dismiss the claim of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the judge denied the request.

Why? The court agreed the employee could not show he was disabled. As to the perception claim, the court noted that the employer’s knowledge of the employee’s medical condition alone was “insufficient to carry the day.”  That is, the employee’s perceived as claim would have failed. But because the supervisor told the employee the health issues and doctor’s appointments were the reason for his being fired, that “creates a factual dispute and makes it material” and a matter for a jury to decide.

Practical Tip: Train managers and supervisors on ways to manage disability and leave issues, including what they should (and should not say) to employees. The primary focus should be on job performance, not a medical condition or lack thereof.