Thursday, March 8, 2012

Disability discrimination case dismissed under old ADA rules

The Americans with Disabilities Act has changed, but the changes enacted in 2008 are not retroactive, so cases like this are dismissed, and that's just the way it is.

The case is Price v. Mount Sinai Hospital, a summary order decided on February 2. Price has a variety of ailments. According to the Second Circuit (Sack, Raggi and Chin), "at the time of termination, Price suffered from headaches, abdominal pain, weight loss, insomnia, and panic attacks, which her psychotherapist identified as symptoms of work-related stress and depression." She cannot sue her former employer, however, because these ailments do not substantially limit a major life activity under the ADA that was in effect at the time (2004). In fact, applying the old standard, the Court of Appeals asks whether the condition is "any worse than is suffered by a large portion of the nation's adult population" while at the same noting that that very standard is superseded by the ADA Amendments Act. Under the old act, Price cannot meet that stringent test that the ADAAA has now rejected.

Mount Sinai also wins summary judgment because Price's "difficulties were alleviated by medication, precluding a reasonable jury finding of disability causing substantial impairments under the applicable version of the ADA." Here again, the Court of Appeals cites the relevant Supreme Court case that articulated that narrow interpretation of the ADA, noting that that precedent is also superseded by the ADAAA. It's almost like the Second Circuit is teasing Price in reminding her that the case might have turned out differently had she been terminated after January 1, 2009.

Things have changed under the ADAAA. Congress in 2008 rejected various Supreme Court cases that had narrowly interpreted the ADA, and the EEOC in 2011 issued regulations that further protect the rights of disabled employees. The new law and regulations can be found here. My guess is that Price could have avoided summary judgment under the ADAAA, but that law was not yet in effect. She is stuck under the old rules. The only things that would allow Price to take advantage of the new ADA rules are a DeLorean and a flux capacitor.

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