Burden of establishing disability still remains after ADA amendments says 5th Circuit.
Neely v. PSEG Texas, Limited Partnership No. 12-51074 (5th Cir. November 6, 2013)
This is an ADA case where the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court order requiring a finding of disability before any causal link can be established. Neely was a control-room operator who had several altercations with his supervisor and terminated. He was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and anxiety disorder which lead to his suit. The case went to a jury on discrimination, retaliation, and failure to provide reasonable accommodations under the ADA. During trial, Neely objected to two jury interrogatories, both of which were predicate questions to the termination and failure-to-accommodate claims and asked whether Neely was “a qualified individual with a disability.” The jury answered “No” to both. Neely appealed arguing the focus of the ADA amendments in 2008 was to simplify the analysis of disability and have the court focus on whether discrimination exists.
The 5th Circuit analyzed the amendments to the ADA and concluded that while Congress intended to simplify matters, the word “disability” was not removed from the statute and must be established before a causal link can be drawn. In other words, “though the ADAAA makes it easier to prove a disability, it does not absolve a party from proving one.” While this may appear to be common sense, Neely’s arguments are not unlike those attempted by plaintiffs on a regular basis in such cases. This case should be kept handy by any lawyer who routinely deals with employment and ADA matters. Additionally, the court noted the 5th Circuit pattern jury charges have not been altered to accommodate the ADAAA changes, but the trial court did a good job of making the adjustment and the language should be reused.
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