Disability Discrimination Re-spelt by the 6th Circuit by LawCrossing

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6th Circuit relents and says claims under ADA need not prove that employee disability was the ‘sole’ cause of termination.

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Disability Discrimination Re-spelt by the 6th Circuit
05/28/12


On Friday, in a decision lauded by activists, the 6 th Circuit ruled that a worker suing her employer under the Americans with Disabilities
Act does not need to prove that she was fired solely due to her disability. The Cincinnati-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6 th Circuit
had, for the last 17 years, toed the line that under the ADA, qualifying cases need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the disability of
the employee was the sole reason for termination. District courts were accordingly advised to instruct juries to exclude cases that did not
meet the criteria from considering under the ADA.

Writing for the nine-judge majority, Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote, “The longer we have stood by this standard, the more out of touch it has
become with the standards used by our sister circuits. At this point, no other circuit imports the 'solely' test into the ADA.”

The ruling was made in the case of one Susan Lewis, a former nurse, who sued her employer Humboldt Acquisition Corp in 2007
claiming that she was fired for a medical condition that caused her to require a wheelchair. However, the employer company claimed that
the employee was fired due to a profanity-laced outburst towards her supervisors.


Following the 6 th Circuit's longstanding rule, the employer asked the district court to instruct the jury that the ADA claim can prevail if that
was the ‘sole' reason for termination. The district court did so, and the jury ruled in favor of the employer.

The aggrieved employee argued that the instruction of the district court to the jury was questionable as it should have held that her
disability had to be one of the motivating factors for termination and not the ‘sole' factor. The argument on behalf of the employee was that
the instructions to the jury should have followed the same standards as used for Title VII cases. The reason was that the ADA was created
specifically to extend protections beyond the Title VII to cover disability.


Thought the majority of the 6 th Circuit Court of Appeals relented to digress from the ‘sole' cause test, it requires employees now to prove
that they would not have been fired if they had not been disabled.

At least seven judges disagreed with the majority's interpretation in three separate partial dissents. Judge Eric Clay held that the majority
failed to align the rule with the prevailing legal opinion across the country.


The case is Lewis v. Humboldt Acquisition Corp, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6 th Circuit, No. 09-6381.




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