Employer Must Conduct An Individualized Inquiry Of Actual Disability

In a recent case, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a jury verdict where an employer failed to take the proper steps under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In Jones v. Nissan N. Am. Inc., the court determined that because the employer – Nissan North America – failed to conduct an individualized inquiry concerning an individual’s actual ability to perform his job, a lower court jury determination for Nissan must be thrown out and the employee was entitled to damages.

Under the ADA, employers are required to determine what is a disability on an individualized basis. In some situations, if you are regarded as or perceived as disabled you may be protected by the ADA. This means that if an employer takes an adverse action against an employee who they regard as disabled, this action may violate the ADA. It’s important to consult an experienced disability discrimination lawyer if you believe your employer has violated the ADA.

Here the employee – Mark Jones – developed an elbow injury at work requiring surgery. In a workers’ compensation proceeding that resulted from the injury, a state chancery court determined he was entitled to vocational disability. The court order did not set out any specific tasks that Jones could not perform but simply said to avoid heavy lifting. Relying on the court order, Nissan imposed medical restrictions on Jones without reviewing what Jones could or could not do. For example Nissan barred Jones from using hand tools, although they weren’t mentioned in the order. Nissan also barred Jones from all lifting, not just heavy. Jones subsequently refused to sign a form stating he was unable to do his job because he was still able to perform most of the tasks associated with his work.

Jones was then placed on medical leave and did not receive a paycheck. While on leave he took another job. Nissan then fired him. Jones sued under the ADA asserting that Nissan’s treatment of him constituted disability discrimination because he was “regarded as” disabled. The jury found for Nissan, but the appellate court overturned this determination noting that Nissan failed to conduct any individualized inquiry and that it drew “unfounded inferences” from the worker’s compensation court order that lead it to impose “unsupported medical restrictions…This constitutes discrimination under the ADA.” The court also stated that relying on the worker’s compensation finding would undermine the ADA.

If your employer perceives you or regards you as disabled – they must conduct an individualized inquiry into your actual medical condition. Failure to do so may constitute a violation of the ADA.

For more information or if you believe your employer perceives you as disabled and has taken adverse actions against you as a result, you may have a claim under the ADA. Contact the knowledgeable Atlanta disability discrimination lawyers at Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP for a confidential case evaluation.