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Tenth Circuit Says ADAAA Work Impairments Must Bar Employee From Class of Jobs

    Client Alerts
  • January 13, 2012

Prior to the ADA Amendments Act, plaintiffs claiming that their impairment substantially limited them from the major life activity of working had to demonstrate that the condition excluded them from a broad range of jobs, and not a single occupation. In an unpublished decision issued last month, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the same interpretation applies to post-ADAAA cases.

In Allen v. SouthCrest Hosp., the plaintiff developed migraine headaches she contended interfered with performance of her medical assistant duties. The employer responded that the plaintiff never introduced evidence claiming that the headaches would have prevented her from performing a class or range of jobs, and that the ADA defines work as a major life activity only within this context.

The Tenth Circuit agreed, first concluding that because the alleged discriminatory actions predated ADAAA, the older ADA interpretation applied. However, the court went on to conclude that even if ADAAA applied to the claim, the EEOC's 2011 regulations interpreting the new law made no change in this definition of work as a major life activity.

This decision may not have much practical effect on ADAAA litigation. Even if this decision is deemed more than dicta, properly pled ADAAA lawsuits should not have to rely on work as a major life activity to claim protected disabled status. ADAAA classifies any substantial impairment of a major bodily system as an ADA disability, even if there is no direct connection between the impairment and its impact on the employee's work or daily life. By alleging that migraines substantially interfere with the employee's neurological system, plaintiffs should be able to state a claim for relief under ADAAA, even if the condition has no direct effect on their ultimate ability to find or to keep work.