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Appeals court rules for employers on ADA

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing

There’s good news for Ohio employers worried about ADA compliance: The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Ohio, has refused to change the law on disability discrimination.

A recent ruling upheld prior court decisions that said an employee can’t win a disability discrimination discharge lawsuit unless she can prove that her disability was the “sole” reason for the discharge.

Recent case: Susan Lewis worked as a registered nurse at a nursing home. She developed a disabling medical condition and had to miss about a month of work. When she returned, she used a wheelchair to get around.

Shortly after, she was fired following a profanity-laced “outburst” at the nurses’ station.

Lewis sued, alleging wrongful termination under the ADA. She said she had been fired in part because her employer didn’t want to deal with her disability—or her wheelchair.

The judge hearing the case told the jury Lewis had to prove her disability was the “sole” reason for her termination. Lewis lost.

She appealed, arguing that the jury should instead have been asked if her disability was a contributing factor to her termination.

But the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals said its hands were tied because other judges in the circuit had already decided that the standard was whether disability was the sole reason for discharge. The judges said only the U.S. Supreme Court could change the 6th Circuit standard. (Lewis v. Humboldt, No. 09-6381, 6th Cir., 2011)

Final note: Don’t be surprised if this case does head for the Supreme Court. Eight other federal circuit courts of appeal have concluded that disability need only be a motivating factor in the discharge reason to be illegal.

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