Former employee’s ADA claim dismissed as ADA requires employers to reasonably accommodate limitations, not disabilities.

Cynthia A. Smith v. City of Austin, 03-12-00295-CV (Tex. App. – Austin, September 30, 2014)

This is an employment dispute case under the ADA and  Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (“TCHRA”) in which the Austin Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment for the City of Austin.

Smith was an assistant payroll manager who was terminated after she failed three times within almost a year to timely submit the City’s federal income-tax liability to the IRS, resulting in the City incurring a large tax penalty (which was later abated).  She claims she suffered from a disability, major depression and anxiety disorder which instantaneously limits her concentration and, as a result of the City failing to make a reasonable accommodation, the errors occurred. The City filed a motion for summary judgment which the trial court granted arguing no evidence existed to establish The City had any knowledge she was disabled or regarded as disabled.

Smith timely and properly completed the IRS forms except these three times over a year period.  The court began by holding “[I]t is important to distinguish between an employer’s knowledge of an employee’s disability versus an employer’s knowledge of any limitations experienced by the employee as a result of that disability.” “[T]he ADA requires employers to reasonably accommodate limitations, not disabilities.” Smith made several vague references that her mental illness might affect her job performance, but nothing establishing her illness limited her ability to concentrate or what the limitations might be so that the City knew what to accommodate.  Furthermore, there is no evidence that any doctor placed any limitations on Smith’s work or identified any major life activities that are substantially limited by her mental illness.  And even though after her termination the City explained to the IRS the failure was due to her mental illness, such an explanation is no indication the City knew about it before hand.   The trial court properly granted summary judgment for the City.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel: Justice Puryear, Justice Pemberton and Justice Field. Memorandum Opinion by Justice Puryear.  The attorney listed for the City of Austin is Ms. Chris Edwards. The attorney listed for Smith is Ms. Toni Hunter.