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Labor: Establishing a disability under the ADAAA

Comparison to the “general population” is key

The Americans With Disabilities  Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), which became effective on Jan. 1, 2009, made a number of significant changes to the definition of “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It also directed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to amend its ADA regulations to reflect the changes made by the ADAAA. The EEOC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Sept. 23, 2009. The final regulations were published in the Federal Register on March 25, 2011.

The ADAAA specifically states that the definition of disability should be interpreted in favor of broad coverage of individuals. Few cases have been decided yet under the ADAAA, but two courts that recently have considered the quantum of evidence required to establish a disability have both focused on a comparison of the plaintiff to an average person in the general population, as set forth in the final regulations.

On Jan. 4, 2012, in Molina v. DSI Renal, Inc., the District Court for the Western District of Texas denied summary judgment for the defendant, finding that the plaintiff was disabled although she had testified that her back pain “did not impact her ability to do any of her activities and did not change the way she did her household activities or how she worked.”

The court found “the fact that Molina learned to work through her pain to continue performing her regular tasks “does not necessarily preclude her from being considered disabled.” In so holding, the court noted evidence that Molina’s condition affected her in the activities of sleeping, sitting, standing and lifting, and that she required medication for pain. In its analysis, the court relied on EEOC guidance under the ADAAA, stating that courts should "compare the condition under which the individual performs the major life activity" or "the manner in which the individual performs the major life activity" as compared to the general population.

Contributing Author

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Wendy Voss

Wendy K. Voss is a partner with the Wilmington, Del. law firm of Potter Anderson & Corroon LLP. She focuses her practice in the areas...

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