Last week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced that it has filed its first three lawsuits that will be governed under the terms of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA). The lawsuits were filed against (1) a Georgia pharmacy that allegedly refused to provide a stool to a clerk with arthritic knees; (2) a Maryland employer that allegedly terminated two employees following a medical questionnaire; and (3) a Michigan company alleged to have terminated an employee with cancer who requested part-time work while he sought chemotherapy.
These lawsuits are significant because they will be litigated under ADAAA's broader definition of protected disabled individuals. In the past, much of the discovery in ADA claims and dispositive motions focused on whether the plaintiff was impaired enough to fall under the law's protections. Previously marginal disability claims, such as arthritic knees, may not have survived a claim for dismissal based on the threshold question of covered disabilities.
Under ADAAA, most of these definitional issues will disappear. Instead, ADA litigation will focus on the employer's motivations in taking action against an employee, and whether an employer provided reasonable accommodation to disabled employees and applicants. These issues are much less subject to early dispositive motions, and many more ADA claims will end up being decided by juries.
The EEOC has announced its intent to increase the number of lawsuits against employers considered to have violated the ADA and other federal civil rights laws. Last week's announcement is likely to be only the first in a series of claims challenging employers' treatment of sick and injured employees.