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By Kevin McGowan
Jan. 13 — A construction firm that withdrew an offer for a field engineer job after discovering the prospective employee had a rotator cuff impairment must stand trial on his Americans with Disabilities Act claim, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled Jan. 13.
Reversing summary judgment for Jacobs Field Services North America Inc., the court said that under the ADA Amendments Act, which expanded the statutory definition of “disability,” rejected employee Michael Cannon's impairment qualified as a disability under the act's “more relaxed standard” for ADA coverage.
The decision illustrates how the ADA Amendments Act, which took effect in 2009, allows more workers to surmount the threshold issue of “disability” and get to a jury on their discrimination claims.
“Given that lifting and reaching are ‘major life activities,' ” Cannon's shoulder injury is a qualifying disability “if it ‘substantially limits' his ability to perform such tasks,” Judge Gregg J. Costa wrote. “There is certainly evidence to that effect.”
The evidence supports a finding the company also regarded Cannon as disabled, which independently brings him under the ADA's protection, the court said.
Whether Cannon was “qualified” for the field engineer job despite his impairment is a “closer question,” but a jury must decide that disputed issue, the court said.
Jacobs asserted Cannon was unable to perform essential job functions, but the court said the “record is thin” given the speed with which the company rescinded its job offer. The Fifth Circuit remanded the case for trial.
In 2011, Jacobs offered Cannon, a mechanical engineer with 20 years' experience, a field engineer position at a Colorado mining site.
But Jacobs rescinded the offer after learning Cannon had a rotator cuff impairment that prevented him from lifting his right arm above the shoulder.
Dismissing Cannon's ADA lawsuit, a federal district court said Cannon couldn't show a “disability” under the act or prove he was a “qualified individual.”
But the court improperly failed to consider how the ADA Amendments Act eased a plaintiff's burden, the Fifth Circuit said.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's regulations interpreting the amended ADA state that whether an individual's impairment “substantially limits” a major life activity “should not demand extensive analysis.”
Under the amended ADA, the issue was whether Cannon's shoulder impairment substantially limited his ability to perform major activities “as compared to most people in the general population.”
Cannon produced “ample evidence” to show he was substantially limited in lifting and reaching, which the amended ADA and EEOC regulations identify as major life activities, the appeals court said.
Jacobs argued Cannon's condition, and the medication he was taking, prevented him from driving and climbing ladders, two essential job functions.
But Cannon's evidence, which included doctor's reports that he was being weaned off the pain medication and a video demonstrating he could safely climb ladders, raise a jury issue as to whether he was “otherwise qualified” for the job, the court said.
Judges Catharina Haynes and E. Grady Jolly joined in the decision.
Elrod PLLC represented Cannon. Seyfarth Shaw LLP represented Jacobs.
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