Tuesday, April 1, 2014

2nd Circuit Holds an Employee's Inability to Sit for a Prolonged Period of Time May Constitute a Disability Under the ADA

Claiming that she was unable to sit for a prolonged period of time, plaintiff Carmen Parada sued her employer, Banco Industrial de Venezuela, C.A. ("BIV"), for discriminating and retaliation against her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and the analogous State and local anti-discrimination statutes, inter alia.  The district court granted summary judgment in favor of BIV on all of Parada's federal claims and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over her remaining claims, holding that Parada's inability to sit for a prolonged period of time did not constitute a "disability," as that term is defined under the ADA.  The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed in part and vacated and remanded in part.

Six months into her job, Parada fell on a sidewalk and hurt her back severely enough that she could no longer sit for long periods of time and prompted her to stand for portions of the workday and to ice her neck and back.  After her doctors diagnosed Parada with lumbosacral and cervical sprains and several spinal disc herniations, Parada was directed to avoid sitting for prolonged periods.  Soon thereafter, Parada requested an ergonomic chair from BIV and even offered to pay for the chair, to no avail.  After repeatedly requesting the ergonomic chair, Parada took a leave of absence that had no specific return date.  For the next several months after, Parada and BIV disputed the extent of her disability, duration of leave, and BIV's repeated requests for additional medical documentation of her disability.  Once Parada's options for leave ran out, she was promptly terminated for failing to return to work.

In the Court's discussion, they noted that even prior to the 2008 amendments to the ADA, they recognized that an impairment "substantially limits" a major life activity if the impaired person is "[s]ignificantly restricted as to the condition, manner or duration under which [she] can perform" the activity.   They also noted that the EEOC listed "sitting" as a major life activity.  The Court then noted the district court's erroneous interpretation of precedent as having created a per se rule when it did not as the plaintiff's in the case cited had vague statements about their difficulties with "prolonged" sitting and that, without more, was not sufficient enough to support a finding of an ADA violation.  The Court noted the importance of the rejection of bright line tests and the need for fact-specific inquiries in ADA claims.

Thus, the lesson to be learned repeatedly in ADA cases is that they are highly fact-specific and employers ought to gather as much information as they can before deciding not to accommodate an employee and terminating them pursuant to attendance policies.  In this case, the 2nd Circuit found that Parada's case may qualify as a "disability" under the ADA (not to mention the likelihood that it may be held a "disability" under the ADAAA as well).  On remand, Parada's case will still come down to specific facts on the nature and extent of her inability to sit for a prolonged period, should it not settle and go that far.

The case is Parada v Banco Industrial de Venezuela, CA, 2ndCir, March 25, 2014, Lohier, R, Jr).

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