Monday, May 20, 2013

Bad back is not a "disability" under the old disabilities law

The Americans with Disabilities Act was amended in 2008, but the courts are still resolving some pre-amendment cases. The amended Act repudiates the Supreme Court rulings that provided a narrow definition of "disability," but since the amendments are not retroactive, those Court rulings are still alive for those plaintiffs with claims brought prior to 2009.

The case is Troeger v. Ellenville Central School District, a summary order decided on May 9. Troeger had a bad back after a fourth grade student pushed him into a filing cabinet. He says the employer did not reasonably accommodate the back condition. In order to have a disability under the original ADA, the condition had to substantially limit a major life activity. The Supreme Court said in the Toyota case that "these terms need to be interpreted strictly to create a demanding standard for qualifying as disabled." In other words, the major life activity has to be "of central importance to daily life," such as walking, running and hearing.

Anyone who has suffered from back pain knows that back pain is like death pain. But that's not really a legal argument. When plaintiff returned to work, his doctor said that he had recovered and could not lift anything that weighed more than 20 pounds. The district court said that plaintiff did not suffer a substantial limitation on a major life activity, and the Second Circuit (Leval, Cabranes and Parker) agrees. Plaintiff was capable of sitting and working, and "an individual is not 'disabled' merely becuase he cannot lift heavier objects weighing, for instance, around twenty pounds." The demanding standard under the Toyota case dooms the case.

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