Appeals Court Overturns ADA Ruling Against ARM Industry Company

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has reversed a lower court’s ruling in favor of a defendant that was accused of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, ruling the company — one involved in the accounts receivable management industry — terminated the plaintiff’s employment because she was unable to return to work promptly after a surgical procedure.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Shields v. Credit One Bank can be accessed by clicking here.

About two months after she began working for the defendant in is Human Resources department, the plaintiff’s doctor became concerned that she might have bone cancer. A biopsy on her right shoulder and arm was conducted, and while everything was found to be benign, the surgery left the plaintiff unable to fully use her right arm. The plaintiff’s doctor estimated that the plaintiff would be able to return to work in two months, but as that date approached, the plaintiff still lacked full use of her arm. The doctor extended the period needed by the plaintiff to recover for another month.

After receiving the update, the defendant contacted the plaintiff and called her in for a meeting. During the meeting, the plaintiff was told that her position was being eliminated and her employment was being terminated.

The plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and filed a lawsuit against the defendant, accusing it of violating the ADA because it had a “continuing duty” to extend the leave until the plaintiff was able to return to work.

A District Court judge sided with the defendant and granted a motion to dismiss, ruling that the plaintiff’s injury did not meet the ADA’s definition of “disability.”

But, the Appeals Court ruled, the lower court committed a “legal error” by failing to consider additional regulations that have been put in place in the past decade aimed at clarifying that the definition of disability under the ADA “is not subject to any categorical temporal limitation.”

“… while Credit One is correct in noting that the guidelines confirm that the ‘duration of an impairment’ remains ‘one factor that is relevant in determining whether the impairment substantially limits a major life activity,’ Shields’s alleged impairment — which involved a substantial inability to perform certain major life tasks for more than two months — is clearly of sufficient duration and impact to qualify,” the Appeals Court wrote.

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