In a 1999 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that just because an employee applies for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, he/she is not automatically precluded from contending that he or she can perform the essential functions of a job when suing an employer for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Supreme Court said that while information from the SSDI application could be used by the employer to show that the employee cannot perform the essential functions of the job, this must be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Last week, in DeRosa v. Nat'l Envelope Corp., the Second Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that affirmative statements by the employee that he was unable to perform specific required job tasks still do not stop him from filing an ADA claim. The plaintiff suffered from a serious leg injury. The employer originally accommodated him by allowing him to work from home, but later rescinded this accommodation. After being terminated, the plaintiff applied for SSDI benefits, and stated on the application that he could not use a telephone or computer due to pain from his leg.
As a defense to the plaintiff's ADA claim, the employer said that the statements made on the SSDI form precluded the plaintiff from asserting that he was able to perform the essential functions of the job. The Second Circuit disagreed, reversing a grant of summary judgment for the defendant. The court said that it was not clear whether the statements made in the SSDI application only applied to the plaintiff's social life, and that he might have been able to fight through the pain in order to maintain a job.
The Second Circuit's reasoning in this case could be used to distinguish virtually any statement made in the SSDI application. If taken to its logical end, federal trial courts would rarely have the power to determine that anything claimed in a SSDI application legally bars the claimant from contending that he is able to work. This decision would have to be made by a jury.