Thursday, 7 August 2003

ADA - Disability Must Be Related To Needed Accommodation To Be Actionable

A redi-mix driver fell in a hole and suffered severe nerve damage which resulted in a number of physical problems. He was terminated because his restrictions, including the inability to lift more than 50 lbs, left him unable to perform his redi-mix driving job. He sued saying that he was discriminated against because of a disability. The court's decision is a good study in how an ADA case is evaluated by the courtw. Wood v. Crown Redi-Mix, Inc. (8th Cir. 8/7/03) [pdf]. He alleged that he was disabled because of limitations with respect to walking, standing, turning, bending, lifting, working and the ability to procreate. The trial court granted summary judgment for the employer on all claims. The 8th Circuit affirmed the claims on the basis of walking, standing, turning, bending, and lifting by evaluating them in light of what it called the "high bar" set by Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky., Inc. v. Williams (U.S. 2002), which requires that an individual must have an "impairment that prevents or severely restricts the individual from doing activities that are of central importance to most people's daily lives." Measured against that standard, although the court characterized the restrictions as moderate, they were not severe. With respect to working, he could not show that he was limited to a substantial range of jobs.

Although hesitant to do so without additional proof, the court accepted for purposes of this case Wood's unsupported assertion that the injury had left him unable to procreate, therefore making him disabled under the ADA (impairment of the major life function of procreation). Even accepting that, the court still affirmed summary judgment, holding that since his inability to procreate had nothing to do with the accommodation that he was requesting, he failed to establish a prima facie case under the ADA. To so hold the court found, "would be a strange result, and one we do not believe Congress intended, to have the viability of Wood's claim that he should have been accommodated as an employee of a truckdriving company turn solely on whether or not he was impotent."

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