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ADA claims can live on even after death

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A federal appeals court has decided ADA disability discrimination claims can continue even though the employee has died. The 8th Circuit noted that the ADA is intended to protect employees whose disabilities may in fact make them more likely to die before their cases can be heard.  

Recent case: In 2012, construction company employee Semmie learned he had prostate cancer and took off about three weeks for treatment.

He returned to work, but by the next year, he learned the cancer had spread throughout his body. Semmie told his employer he would need another three weeks of leave.

Instead, the company fired him. Not only that, it cut off his health insurance coverage.

Semmie filed an ADA disability discrimination complaint with the EEOC. Almost two years after his termination but before the EEOC could issue a right-to-sue letter, Semmie died.

When the EEOC did issue the letter, Semmie’s estate filed a federal ADA lawsuit. The construction company moved to have the case dismissed under a state law that said legal claims terminate on death if they have not yet been filed. A lower court agreed.

The estate appealed and the case made its way to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 8th Circuit considered the ADA’s legislative history, especially its broad remedial purpose to prevent discrimination against disabled Americans. The court concluded that Congress intended for claims to survive even if victims of disability discrimination did not.

The court said the estate’s case can proceed. (Guenther v. Griffin Construction Company, No. 16-1760, 8th Cir., 2017)

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