Court Rules that Employees Do Not Need to Prove Adverse Actions to File a Disability Discrimination Claim

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Court Rules that Employees Do Not Need to Prove Adverse Actions to File a Disability Discrimination Claim
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Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are required to offer reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. However, until recently, an employee could not sue their employer for failing to provide reasonable accommodations without proof of adverse actions. An adverse action in this situation refers to any demotions, terminations, or employment-related negative conduct toward an employee due to their disability.

In a hotly debated and controversial 7-6 court decision, the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that an employee does not need to experience adverse employment actions to file a disability discrimination lawsuit against their employer.

This decision has already revived a disability discrimination lawsuit that was tossed in 2013.

In 2013, plaintiff Laurie Exby-Stolley broke her arm while working as a health inspector. After undergoing multiple surgeries and treatments to correct the break, when she returned to work she was unable to lift and open objects without the help of a device, causing her inspections to take considerably longer than another inspector. In response to the time it was taking her to complete inspections, she was moved to a part-time office job. However, because she had not suffered a termination or perceived adverse action from the employer, her case was tossed out—until now.

This is a reversal from the 2018 decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals which required proof that an adverse action had taken place.

When Exby-Stolley’s case was rejected and brought before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2018, they upheld the original verdict, pointing out that if an adverse action did not occur, the failure-to-accommodate claim could not be approved. In this original decision, the court pointed out “a mere inconvenience or alteration of job responsibilities” was not technically considered an adverse action as it did not constitute an employment action. However, the same court’s October 2020 decision to not require proof of adverse action for an ADA accommodation claim overturns the logic of their 2018 decision, even if the 7-6 vote was a close one.

It is quite possible that more ADA discrimination lawsuits will resurface.

Exby-Stolley’s case is unlikely to be the only one resurfacing since its initial rejection. Other reasonable accommodation lawsuits that were tossed under the old “adverse actions rule” are likely to come to light again, potentially with very different outcomes.

The Americans with Disabilities Act in addition to other state and federal laws is designed to protect people with disabilities.

If you or a loved one have suffered a workplace disability, or have suffered with a disability in a workplace without reasonable accommodations, reach out to a disability attorney. Federal and state laws exist to ensure that people with disabilities are afforded the same rights, protections, and employment opportunities as people without disabilities. When an employer fails to follow the guidelines set forth in the ADA, including but not limited to offering reasonable accommodations and regardless of whether adverse action is involved, it is important to seek legal assistance.

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