Sunday, November 10, 2013

Fifth Circuit Determines ADAAA Claims Still Require Proof of a Disability

In enacting the amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act, Congress made clear its intent that the question of whether an individual's impairment is a disability under the statute should not demand extensive analysis.  Congress also undeniably broadened the definition and coverage of the term "disability."

Many employment practitioners interpreted the amendments to mean that courts would no longer examine whether a plaintiff was actually disabled, and instead, would focus the analysis on whether there was discrimination in the adverse employment action.

In a decision issued on November 6, 2013, the Fifth Circuit confirmed that a plaintiff bringing disability discrimination and failure to accommodate claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended (ADAAA), is still required to prove he or she is disabled to prevail on the claims.  See Neely v. PSEG Texas, Limited Partnership, et al., No. 12-51074.

In Neely, the plaintiff appealed a judgment based on an adverse jury verdict, and complained the trial court erred in submitting predicate questions to the termination and failure to accommodate claims that asked whether the plaintiff was "a qualified individual with a disability."  The plaintiff argued the jury questions, as submitted, directly conflicted with the purpose of the amendments.

The Fifth Circuit disagreed, finding that the amendments in no way eliminated the need to prove a disability.  In the Court's words, "though the ADAAA makes it easier to prove a disability, it does not absolve a party from proving one." (Emphasis in original).  Finding no error in the jury questions, the Court affirmed the judgment.