‘Qualified Individuals’ Under the ADA in Disability Discrimination Lawsuits

Any federal employment discrimination lawsuit is something worth taking very seriously, whether you’re the worker pursuing the case or the employer being sued That includes assessing the ways an employer can defeat a claim, potentially even before the lawsuit makes it to trial.
Whichever side you’re on, you can strengthen your position by getting in touch with an experienced Atlanta disability discrimination lawyer about the matter.

A recent disability discrimination case from here in Georgia is an example of an employer succeeding on a summary judgment motion and avoiding a trial on a worker’s disability discrimination case.

S.L. worked as a lineman for a Georgia electric utility. The employer required all its linemen to maintain a valid commercial driver’s license (CDL) at all times. The employer defined possession of a CDL as essential to the job of a lineman as, according to the employer, any lineman might need to drive a commercial vehicle on an unpredictable basis.

S.L., who was blind in his right eye, was eligible to maintain a CDL but had to obtain a “federal vision waiver.” In 2017, the lineman lost his CDL for 30 days while waiting for the renewal of his vision exemption. Two years later, the lineman’s exemption expired again because of the lineman’s failure to submit his renewal paperwork in a timely manner. As a result of the 2019 incident, the employer fired the lineman for “failing to maintain a valid CDL for non-medical reasons.”

The lineman sued the employer for disability discrimination and retaliation.

Whether you’re an employer or an employee with a disability, it’s important to recognize that an employer in a position like this utility may have several potential options for defeating this type of lawsuit. One method is to persuade the court that the employee who sued is not a “qualified individual” as defined by the Americans With Disabilities Act.

To be a qualified individual, a worker must be able, with or without a reasonable accommodation, to “perform the essential functions of his job.” Keeping a valid CDL at all times was clearly established as an essential function of the lineman job. S.L. failed to maintain his CDL, therefore, he was not qualified for the lineman position when the employer fired him, which meant his termination could not constitute illegal disability discrimination.

The Essential Element of Causation in a Retaliation Claim

Additionally, when it comes to a retaliation claim under the ADA, an employer can succeed if it can establish that the worker’s disability accommodation request did not trigger the employer’s adverse action against the worker. The law requires that a worker claiming retaliation demonstrate not only a valid request for a reasonable accommodation and an adverse employment action, but also causation.

S.L. had the accommodation and the adverse action, but he didn’t have causation. The lineman admitted during his deposition that the employer fired him because his CDL was suspended, not because he asked for extra time to submit his waiver paperwork. That meant that the license suspension — not the accommodation request — caused the termination and the lineman’s retaliation claim necessarily failed.

As an employee who believes you’ve experienced disability discrimination or an employer facing such a claim, it is well worth your while to get all the necessary information about the ADA and disability discrimination litigation. To do that, reach out to the knowledgeable Atlanta disability discrimination attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert. This area of the law is complex, so it is essential to understand fully all of your rights and obligations. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation today.

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