Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Second Circuit rejects premature disability discrimination appeal

Not every court ruling can be appealed in the Federal system. You need a final judgment which resolves all the claims before taking the case to the Court of Appeals. One of the ways around this is by having the trial court certify the case for an early appeal under Rule 54 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. We call that interlocutory appeals. But sometimes, even if the trial judge certifies the case for immediate appeal, the Court of Appeals rejects that certification. That happened on October 16, 2007, in Transport Workers Union of America v. New York City Transit Authority.

The union sued the City claiming that certain sick leave procedures violated the Americans With Disabilities Act because workers have to tell management the nature of their illness or disability. Employees who need more than two days' off have to also provide certain medical records. Employees found to have abused sick leave in the past also have to provide certain medical records. The union argued that these procedures represent a prohibited inquiry under the ADA which only permits the release of medical information when it's "job-related and consistent with business necessity." According to the union, this information might reveal certain ADA-covered disabilities like AIDS, cancer and depression.

The district court held a trial on the legality of this policy only as it affected two subclasses of the union: bus drivers and station cleaners. After trial, the court ruled that these sick leave procedures were legal only for the sick leave abusers and for bus drivers and other safety-sensitive employees. The policy was otherwise illegal to the extent it sought to prevent sick leave abuse. The union wanted to appeal, but the problem was that the district court had yet to rule on the policies as they affected other transit employees. Since the case was not final and therefore not ready for the Court of Appeals, the district court certified the case for immediate appeal.

The Court of Appeals does not have to entertain an appeal that the district court certifies for immediate appeal. In this case, the Second Circuit said the case was not yet ready for appeal. While the lower court did rule on the legality of the sick leave policy as it affected bus drivers, that did not mean that issues concerning the bus drivers would not again surface in a later appeal, particularly since the City is prepared to make other arguments in favor of the sick leave policy as it affects the bus drivers. Since the purpose of the certification policy for immediate appeals is to allow the Court of Appeals to resolve a distinct class of legal issues, the fact that other issues concerning the bus drivers might return to the Second Circuit on another day means that the district court was wrong to certify the case for immediate appeal. Bottom line: appeal dismissed for lack of appellate jurisdiction.

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