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Disability Discrimination: The Importance of Being 'Otherwise Qualified'

Posted on July 21, 2014 in Disability Benefits

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) is the federal law that protects individuals with disabilities against discrimination, including discrimination in the workplace. In order to be protected against workplace discrimination under the ADA, a person must be “otherwise qualified” to perform the essential functions or duties of a job, with or without reasonable accommodation.

This means two things: 1) You must satisfy the employer's requirements for the job, such as education or experience, and 2) You must be able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. Essential functions are the fundamental job duties that you must be able to perform on your own or with the help of a reasonable accommodation. An employer cannot fire or refuse to hire an individual with a disability if they are unable to perform non-essential job functions.

Recently, in EEOC v. Womble, a federal judge in North Carolina granted the defendant’s summary judgment motion and ended an employee’s case. The employee, Ms. Jennings, was a support services assistant for a law firm. Her job description included running high-volume copy machines, handing out office supplies, answering customer questions, filing and lifting up to 75 pounds; however, she spent most of her time copying, scanning and printing.

In 2008, Ms. Jennings was diagnosed with breast cancer and took a leave of absence. After returning to work she was diagnosed with swelling and tenderness in her arm, resulting from the cancer treatment and triggered by heavy lifting. As a result, she was restricted to lifting no more than 10 pounds and eventually 20 pounds.

Although Ms. Jenning’s duties rarely involved heavy lifting, she was placed on medical leave and later fired because she was unable to perform all of the duties in her job description.

Ms. Jenning lost her case because she failed to submit evidence to dispute whether the job description, including the 75-pound lifting requirement, accurately described her position. She had offered no evidence to challenge the employer’s argument that the lifting requirement was not an essential element, and she presented no evidence for a possible accommodation for her to do this function, if it was essential.

If you have a disability or become disabled it is vital that you are able to prove you are able to perform all of the essential functions of your job and to present accommodations that a court would consider reasonable. Submitting detailed doctor’s notes and/or vocational evaluations may help.

The attorneys at Lebau & Neuworth are experienced advising employees on their rights, protections and obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. We also fight for our clients in representation before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as well as in court. For more information contact us http://lebauneuworth.com.

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