BCLP At Work

BCLP At Work

ADA

Main Content

Website Accessibility Alert: Court Addresses Mootness Argument in Website Accessibility Case

As businesses continue to face lawsuits and demand letters alleging that their websites are inaccessible to blind and deaf patrons in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), courts across the country continue to weigh in on the issue.  On Tuesday, June 4, 2019, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a decision in Diaz v. The Kroger Co. – holding that the Court lacked both subject matter and personal jurisdiction over the case because the complaint had been rendered moot by modifications defendant made to the website and because the defendant did not sell goods or services in New York.  Diaz v. The Kroger Co., Case No. 18-cv-07953, Opinion and Order [Dkt. No. 35].

In Diaz, the plaintiff, a visually-impaired and legally blind individual who resides in the Bronx, New York, alleged that the website of defendant Kroger, a supermarket chain with its principal place of business in Cincinnati, Ohio, denied equal access to blind customers.  Kroger moved to dismiss the complaint on two grounds:  (1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because it remedied the barriers to access to its website, and (2) for lack of personal jurisdiction because it does not conduct business in New York.  The Court granted Kroger’s motion to dismiss on both grounds.

In granting Kroger’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the Court noted that the facts of the case were different from other cases where courts found, “on the facts of those cases, that the defendants

Ninth Circuit Issues Important Decision in Domino’s Website Accessibility Action

January 23, 2019

Categories

As businesses continue to face lawsuits and demand letters alleging that their websites are inaccessible to blind and deaf patrons in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), courts across the country continue to weigh in on the issue.

Click here to read the recent article posted on our Retail Law blog.

Supreme Court Rejects Disabled Employee’s Bid to Revive His $2.6 Million ADA Jury Verdict: Why You Should Still Regularly Update Job Descriptions and Supporting Documents

January 3, 2018

Categories

On October 16, 2017, the Supreme Court rejected an employee’s petition for review of a decision in Stevens v Rite Aid Corporation.[1]  Stevens sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) for alleged discriminatory discharge claiming trypanophobia or “fear of needles” as a disability.  Rite Aid discharged Stevens, a pharmacist of 32 years (with Rite Aid and its predecessors), after he refused to comply with Rite Aid’s requirement that pharmacists administer immunization injections to its customers.  The Second Circuit held that administering injections was an essential function of the pharmacist position at the time of his termination, and therefore, concluded that Stevens was not a “qualified individual” with a disability.

At trial, Rite Aid personnel testified that the company made a business decision to start requiring pharmacists to perform immunizations.  While courts are required to consider a variety of factors under Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) regulations, many courts give substantial or “considerable” deference to an employer’s business judgment and written job descriptions.  Following this deferential standard, the Second Circuit reversed entry of judgment in Stevens’ favor and ordered the district court to vacate the jury’s $2.6 million award and enter judgment for Rite Aid as a matter of law on his claim of disability discrimination.

The Second Circuit is in line with other circuits, including the Fifth, Eighth, and Tenth Circuits, which have concluded that considerable or substantial deference to an employer’s business judgment about essential functions and its written job descriptions is required.   However, some circuit

ADA Does Not Require Employers to Provide Multi-Month Leave Beyond Expiration of FMLA Leave – Seventh Circuit

This week the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision helpful to employers grappling with whether they must extend an employee’s time off following the expiration of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  See Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc., No. 15-3754, 2017 WL 4160849 (7th Cir., Sept. 20, 2017).

In Severson, the court found that “[a] multimonth leave of absence is beyond the scope of a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.”  Plaintiff, Severson, had a physically demanding job working for a fabricator of retail display fixtures.  Severson took twelve weeks of FMLA leave due to serious back pain.  During his leave, he scheduled back surgery (to occur on the last day of his FMLA leave), and requested an additional three months of leave.  Defendant, Heartland, denied Severson’s request to continue his medical leave beyond the FMLA entitlement, terminated his employment, and invited him to reapply when he was medically cleared to work.  Instead, Severson sued, alleging disability discrimination.

In affirming summary judgment in favor of the employer, the 7th Circuit noted that “[t]he ADA is an antidiscrimination statute, not a medical-leave entitlement.”  Following its earlier decision in Byrne v. Avon Prods., 328 F.3d 379 (7th Cir. 2003), the court also stated that “an employee who needs long-term medical leave cannot work and thus is not a ‘qualified individual’ under the ADA.”  In other words, “an extended leave of absence does not give a disabled individual the means

Are Head Lice a Disability? Navigating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

August 25, 2017

Categories

What if you had an employee who kept coming to work with head lice?  What should you do?  Employment lawyers get all kinds of questions about the Americans with Disabilities Act—and some of these can give you a serious case of the heebie-jeebies.  Here is a short tutorial on the basics of navigating this important law, seen through the lens of that bane of parents everywhere: the louse.

Under the ADA, a disability is (1) “a physical or mental impairment” that (2) “substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual.”  Under this test, the claimant must first prove that he or she has a physical or mental impairment, which is defined as “any physiological disorder or condition.”  But what qualifies as a physiological disorder or condition?   According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “physiological” means relating to “the organic processes and phenomena of an organism or any of its parts.”  Given this breadth, it is difficult to think of any “disorder” or “condition” that affects the human body that would not qualify.  However some courts, such as the Sixth Circuit in E.E.O.C. v. Watkins Motor Lines, Inc., have focused more on the “disorder” element of the EEOC’s definition.  In Watkins, the court held that a man’s obesity did not qualify as an ADA impairment because a “physical characteristic must relate to a physiological disorder in order to qualify as an ADA impairment.”  According to the Watkins court, merely having a physical characteristic beyond the range of normal

Temps in Tenth Circuit Face Stricter Scrutiny When Seeking Time Off as Reasonable Accommodation

On July 6, 2017, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reiterated that physical attendance in the workplace is an essential function of most jobs and emphasized this is particularly true for temporary workers filling short-term vacancies.

In Punt v. Kelly Services, the plaintiff, Kristin Punt, was a temporary worker assigned to work for GE Controls Solutions (“GE”) as a receptionist.  The essential functions of that job included being “physically present at the lobby/reception desk during business hours.”  However, during her six weeks in the position, Ms. Punt was absent or tardy on multiple occasions, often due to medical appointments related to a recent diagnosis of breast cancer.  GE terminated her assignment after she informed GE on a Monday morning that she planned to be absent the entire week and would need unspecified additional time off for “some appointments and tests” and “five times of radiation.”

Ms. Punt filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, alleging failure to accommodate a disability.  In the Tenth Circuit, the plaintiff must make a prima facie showing that (1) she is disabled, (2) she is “otherwise qualified,” and (3) she requested a plausibly reasonable accommodation.  The burden of production then shifts to the employer to present evidence either (1) conclusively rebutting one or more elements of the prima facie case, or (2) establishing one of the affirmative defenses, such as undue hardship.  The Tenth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for GE, concluding as a matter of law

ADA Tip: Remember To Include GINA Safe Harbor Language When Requesting Medical Information For Purposes Of Evaluating An Accommodation Request

Although employers are generally prohibited from obtaining medical information about their employees, they are permitted to do so in certain circumstances, including when such information is necessary to evaluate a job applicant’s or employee’s request for an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

When obtaining medical information as part of the ADA interactive process, however, employers must keep in mind the provisions of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA).  Specifically, GINA protects applicants and employees from discrimination on the basis of genetic information and prohibits covered employers from using genetic information when making decisions about employment.  Accordingly, GINA generally restricts employers from requesting genetic information, unless one of six narrow exceptions applies.

Importantly, intent is not a required element for a GINA violation.  That is, an employer can be found in violation of GINA if the employer obtains genetic information despite not requesting or having any intent to receive such information.

Fortunately, “safe harbor” language can be used to protect an employer against an inadvertent GINA violation.  The following language should be included in any communications in which medical information is requested:

Note:  The information we are seeking relates only to any condition you may have that affects your ability to perform your essential job functions.  Please note that the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) prohibits employers and other entities covered by GINA Title II from requesting or requiring genetic information of an individual or family member of the individual, except as specifically allowed

The attorneys of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner make this site available to you only for the educational purposes of imparting general information and a general understanding of the law. This site does not offer specific legal advice. Your use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Bryan Cave LLP or any of its attorneys. Do not use this site as a substitute for specific legal advice from a licensed attorney. Much of the information on this site is based upon preliminary discussions in the absence of definitive advice or policy statements and therefore may change as soon as more definitive advice is available. Please review our full disclaimer.