Applicants and employees who are so disabled they are eligible for Social Security Disability (SSD) payments can still sue for disability discrimination under state law.
Why? Because claiming you are totally disabled and unable to work (as required to get SSD benefits) doesn’t mean you don’t think you could do some type of work with reasonable accommodations, such as those required under the Michigan Persons With Disabilities Act (MPWDA).
That means you open up your organization to liability if you refuse to interview or hire severely disabled applicants or won’t accommodate recently disabled employees.
Recent case: Jeffrey Smith worked for Eaton Corporation until he was hurt in a hunting accident, which left him a quadriplegic. He applied for SSD payments and swore he was totally disabled and unable to work. But after learning to live with his disability, he wanted his job back and asked for accommodations. When no offers came, he sued under the MPWDA, alleging disability discrimination.
Eaton asked that the case be tossed out since Smith claimed to be totally disabled and unable to work. But the court refused, concluding that his statements to the Social Security Administration weren’t necessarily inconsistent with his request for his job back. Presumably, accommodations could allow him to perform the essential functions of the position he held before the accident or another position. (Smith v. Eaton Corporation, No. 05-10060-BC, ED MI, 2007)
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