The ADA protects disabled employees from retaliation for claiming their right to accommodation and freedom from discrimination. But it’s sometimes tough to prove disability under the ADA, requiring a fairly serious medical condition.
Not every injury that might qualify an employee for workers’creates a disability. Some injuries are mild and require nothing more than temporary lifting restrictions, for example.
Some workers and their lawyers have taken the position that requesting workers’ compensation benefits for an injury, no matter how minor, is protected activity under the ADA. Therefore, they argue, being punished for reporting an injury is retaliation under the ADA.
Fortunately, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has now made it clear that won’t work.
Recent case: Benjamin worked for a short time as a health instructor for an American Red Cross affiliate.
After allegedly injuring his back while moving a piano at work, he asked to file for workers’ compensation benefits. His supervisor told him “that wasn’t going to happen.”
Although Benjamin’s doctor placed him on a light-duty restriction, his injury wasn’t deemed serious enough to constitute a disability under the ADA.
Shortly after, Benjamin was terminated. He sued in federal court, alleging that he had been fired in retaliation for engaging in protected activity—requesting to file for workers’ comp because of an injury he considered a disability.
The court disagreed. It said that retaliation under the ADA requires the employee to assert his rights under the ADA and not some other law. (Reynolds v. American National Red Cross, et al., No. 11-2278, 4th Cir., 2012)
Final note: Of course, employees have protections under their state’s workers’ compensation laws. However, those are state claims handled in state courts, not the federal system.