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Social Security disability doesn’t automatically earn ADA status

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Employees who are approved for Social Security disability payments sometimes think that automatically means they’re also deemed “disabled” under the ADA, which requires their employers to offer “reasonable accommodations.” But that’s simply not true.

In fact, the ADA requires an individualized assessment to make the call. Each case must be examined on its own. Applying for and receiving Social Security disability payments isn’t a trump card.

Recent case: Karl Lloyd worked as an associate professor of IT at Washington & Jefferson College. Shortly after he was hired, the college instituted a new policy that required professors to be on campus “a minimum of four days per week, for at least four hours per day.” Lloyd protested, claiming he suffered from agoraphobia, which made it hard for him to leave the house.

He asked to be excused from the new policy as a reasonable accommodation. He was offered a different job, which required just three full days per week, and was told to report to work if he wanted to accept the accommodation. When he didn’t show, he was fired.

Lloyd sued, alleging disability discrimination. But he offered no direct proof that he was actually disabled. He could prove only that he had been treated for agoraphobia and panic attacks in the past, and that the Social Security Administration had approved him for disability benefits.

The college argued that Lloyd had been able to get to class and work at least three days per week, plus go to family parties and gatherings.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out his case.

It reasoned that receiving Social Security disability benefits isn’t proof of disability under the ADA. Employees and applicants still have to show that their impairments substantially limit major life functions, which Lloyd failed to do. (Lloyd v. Washington and Jefferson College, No. 07-2907, 3rd Cir., 2008)

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