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Deceased Employee's ADA Claim Becomes Property of Estate

    Client Alerts
  • April 10, 2015

What happens when a plaintiff pursuing a disability discrimination claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act dies during administrative or judicial review? Are the claims of such a personal nature that they expire along with the plaintiff? According to a new case from the First Circuit Court of Appeals, ADA claims may survive the employee’s death, and may be pursued by his or her estate.

In Vaello-Carmona v. Siemens Med. Solutions USA, Inc., the plaintiff suffered a stroke, resulting in speech and mobility limitations. He claimed that he was laid off, despite superior work performance following the stroke. The plaintiff died one month after filing an ADA discrimination lawsuit against Siemens. The district court dismissed the complaint, stating that it was not inheritable by his estate.

The First Circuit disagreed, reinstating the claim. The court noted that by their very nature, ADA discrimination claims involve alleged harm suffered by plaintiffs during their lives. The ADA is silent on the issue of inheritability, and therefore, the First Circuit deferred to state law on the question of inheritability of the claim. In this case, Puerto Rican law provides that deceased plaintiffs’ estates can collect monetary damages for harms incurred before the plaintiff’s death.

This case could result in a hodgepodge of decisions on inheritability of ADA claims depending on where the plaintiff works. However, employers should not conclude that just because a disabled employee dies, they cannot be sued by his or her estate for pre-death disability discrimination claims.