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Use ‘general public’ test to determine whether employee is disabled under the ADA

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Employees who have minor physical problems—even permanent ones—aren’t necessarily disabled and entitled to ADA accommodations. The test in each case is how the impairment compares with the average member of the general public.

Employees simply can’t say they have a diagnosis and expect their employers to blindly agree. Employers are entitled to question the extent of the problem.

Recent case: Joseph Adams developed cancer as a young man and had a tumor removed from his lung, and also underwent extensive chemotherapy. He was essentially cured, with no recurrence of the cancer. The only lingering problem was scar tissue in one of his lungs, which reduced his lung capacity.

Adams applied to the Pennsylvania State Police Academy and was accepted as a cadet. He was successful in his training until the end of the program, when he was required to complete a 1.5-mile run in 14.05 minutes or less. When he couldn’t meet that requirement, he was dismissed from the academy, even though he had passed the rest of a fitness test that included a vertical jump, push-ups, sit-ups and other arduous tasks.

Adams sued, alleging disability discrimination because he hadn’t received a reasonable accommodation.

The State Police said he wasn’t covered by the ADA because he wasn’t disabled. It pointed out that Adams could complete the other physical tests and could jog, tasks that the average American might find quite difficult.

The court agreed that Adams wasn’t disabled despite his diminished lung capacity. It tossed out his case. (Adams v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, No. 1:06-CV-2154, MD PA, 2009)

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