Disabilities Protections Expanded

By James Denis

Nov. 5, 2010

Sam Hoffman, a service technician for Advanced Healthcare, was diagnosed with stage 3 renal cancer and had his left kidney removed.

More than a year later, Advanced Healthcare told all of its service technicians, including Hoffman, they would have to start working 65 to 70 hours a week, instead of the previous 40 hours.

Although his cancer was in remission, Hoffman gave the company a doctor’s note limiting him to a 40-hour schedule. Advanced Healthcare agreed to a 40-hour schedule but told him he would have to work out of the company’s Fort Wayne, Indiana, office rather than his Angola, Indiana, home. Hoffman, citing two to three hours of commute time that would be added to his day, refused and never returned to work.

Hoffman sued the company under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended by the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act, claiming the company failed to accommodate his disability and fired him because he was disabled or regarded as disabled.

In one of the first cases of its kind to reach the summary judgment phase since the ADA Amendments Act became effective on Jan. 1, 2009, the Northern District of Indiana court in Fort Wayne found that Hoffman’s claims could proceed to trial even though his cancer was in remission. Holding that “although the ADAAA left the ADA’s three-category definition of ‘disability’ intact, significant changes were made to how the categories are to be interpreted. … Moreover, the ADAAA very clearly provides that an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.” Therefore, Hoffman didn’t have to show that he was substantially limited in a major life activity at the actual time of the alleged adverse employment action. Hoffman v. Carefirst of Fort Wayne Inc. d/b/a Advanced Healthcare, N.D. Ind., No. 1:09-cv-00251, Aug. 31, 2010.

Impact: Because of the ADA Amendments Act’s more expansive definition of a “disability,” employers should be aware that workers with cancer or other diseases that are inactive or in remission may still be considered disabled, in which case reasonable accommodations must be considered.

Workforce Management, November 2010, p. 11Subscribe Now!

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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