Under the ADA, employees who aren’t actually disabled can nonetheless sue employers if the employers erroneously perceive them to be disabled. The idea is that employers that make stereotypical assumptions about disabilities shouldn’t be able to escape liability just because it turns out the employees aren’t really disabled.
But there’s good news on this arcane ADA front. Employers that rely on medical reports to conclude that medical restrictions prevent employees from performing their jobs aren’t making stereotypical assumptions.
Recent case: Sharon Baros was hurt on the job while working at a Matrix Logistics warehouse. She got workers’ comp benefits and then wanted to return to work. Her doctor said she could do so without restrictions, so she did.
Then the company’s designated doctor evaluated her and said she should not be doing the job because she risked re-injury. He restricted her to sedentary jobs. Since Matrix Logistics had no such jobs open, it fired Baros.
She sued, alleging that her employer regarded her as disabled even though she wasn’t.
But the company pulled out the medical report that detailed her impairment. The court said the company had rightfully relied on a solid medical opinion, and therefore wasn’t regarding her as disabled. (Baros v. Matrix Logistics, No. 07-CV-01109, DC CO, 2008)
Final note: After Jan. 1, 2009, the new ADA Amendments Act of 2008 goes into effect. The new amendments tweak the “regarded as” portion of the ADA. The amendments require an employee to show an employer took some adverse job action (such as refusing to hire, refusing to promote or firing) because of a mistaken belief the employee was disabled.