ADA in the News November 8, 2019

Settlement Agreement: Lanier Technical College | Complaint

Lanier Tech, U.S. Attorney Settle On Discrimination Lawsuit

The complaint alleges the college terminated an employee on the basis of her disability, multiple sclerosis, after years of service.

The New Accessibility

While many still think of wheelchair ramps when they think of access for the disabled, today’s ADA lawsuit is just as likely to be about navigating a website.

Recently, Goldberg Segalla associate attorney Joanne J. Romero of the firm’s Management and Professional Liability practice group started working on an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) case involving a disabled Brooklyn man who sued a limousine and bus service because he was having trouble accessing the business.

But it wasn’t a high curb, narrow entryway, or other physical obstacle that stood in the man’s way; it was, rather, a problem the man was having navigating the company’s website. He was blind, and he alleged that the limo service’s website had been engineered with few if any voice prompts or other accommodations to help a visually impaired customer purchase tickets or ticket packages, contact the company, learn stop locations, or view maps or schedules.

The online accessibility of businesses to consumers with sensory impairments is a new twist on an old issue, one that most Americans likely still think of in terms of wheelchair ramps and wide restroom stalls. The number of internet ADA suits has nearly tripled over the past five years to a projected 11,000 new filings in 2019.

More accessibility lawsuits were filed in federal court during the first six months of 2018 than in all of 2017.

Figuring prominently in these numbers is a rise in website accessibility cases driven by the proliferation of e-commerce platforms and of the absence of any federal guidelines explaining how businesses need to structure or modify their websites in order to comply with the ADA. The vacuum has spawned a new sector of ADA litigation that’s changing the legal landscape despite unfolding largely outside the public consciousness.

“This area of the law is largely unknown to those outside of the industry,” says Jeffrey S. Matty, a partner with the firm’s Cybersecurity and Data Privacy practice, a multidisciplinary team of attorneys working across the country to counsel, train, and defend clients facing all conceivable cybersecurity and data-related risks.

“The proliferation of website ADA lawsuits has certainly helped to bring about some discussion on the topic, but most owners and operators of businesses that have an online retail component are caught completely off-guard when a claim letter or lawsuit is received.”

What is a Reasonable Accommodation Under the ADA?

What is a Reasonable Accommodation Under the ADA? Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, as amended (“ADA”), employers have a duty to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with a disability. It is important for employers to understand their duty to meet and confer and what makes an accommodation “reasonable.”

‘Smoking Gun’ Email Revives Employee’s Disability Discrimination Lawsuit

Don't be so short-sighted as to fire an employee because you believe she suffers from a disability, and then confirm that belief in writing.

Family Dollar to Resolve EEOC Disability Discrimination Lawsuit

Family Dollar Stores of Michigan, LLC, a retailer with discount stores throughout Michigan, will pay $25,000 and provide other relief to settle a federal disability-discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. According to the lawsuit, Family Dollar violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by refusing to employ a job applicant who suffers from left-sided paralysis and wears a brace on his left arm. After being interviewed at the company's Detroit location, the applicant was offered the position but was told that he could not start work until a few weeks later. Despite his requests for a start date, he was never placed on the schedule and never performed any services for the company. During this same time, the company continued to hire other non-disabled individuals to work as customer service representatives at the same store.

Such alleged conduct violates the ADA. After first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process, the EEOC sued Family Dollar in the Eastern District Court of Michigan (EEOC v. Family Dollar, Case No. 4:18-cv-13030).

In addition to the monetary relief, the 2 ½-year consent decree settling the suit provides for injunctive relief, training on the ADA, and reporting.

"Failing to employ an individual because of his disability violates the ADA," explained Nedra Campbell, trial attorney for the EEOC. "Hopefully, Family Dollar will be able to fulfill its obligation to ensure individuals are not subjected to disability discrimination," she added.

BNSF OK to not hire obese rail worker; ADA doesn't cover job applicants for possible future disability: Appeal panel

A federal appeals panel has ruled railroad BNSF could legally decline to hire an obese rail yard worker, because the Americans With Disabilities Act doesn't prohibit employers screening against able-bodied people who may be at risk of developing a disability in the future.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling Oct. 29. The finding, in Shell v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe, is in keeping with another recent Seventh Circuit decision, Richardson v. Chicago Transit Authority, which found that obesity is not a physical impairment under the ADA, unless it has an underlying medical cause, and that employers can screen out job candidates at risk of obesity-related health complications.

Seventh Circuit judges William J. Bauer, Daniel A. Manion and Michael Y. Scudder Jr. reversed a federal district judge's decision that granted summary judgment to Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad in a lawsuit filed by rejected job candidate Ronald Shell. 

Employer Concerns with Employee Substance Abuse and Drug Use: A Q&A with Caroline J. Berdzik of Goldberg Segalla

With headlines and staggering statistics extolling the impact of the opioid epidemic ripping through the United States, and marijuana (medical and recreational) legalized and decriminalized and a patchwork of state, federal and municipal laws across the country; employers dealing with employee substance abuse and drug use issues have a lot of things to consider. Caroline J. Berdzik, a partner with Goldberg Segalla and chair of the firm’s Labor and Employment and Health Care Groups,  focuses on counseling employers on human resources and employment matters, and was kind enough to share her thoughts on the thorny issues of employers navigating employee substance abuse and drug use.  Read on for more insight and ideas on  how employers should proceed when an employee demonstrates some indication of substance abuse, what the concerns are for employers, and some thoughts on how to move forward keeping in mind changing attitudes on addiction and the laws that may apply. 

ADA lawsuit against Greene dismissed

A federal judge last week dismissed the civil suit against a number of Greene County offices and officials by a man claiming his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) had been violated after a 2018 arrest.

Charles Allen Wimer, 46, of Ruckersville, filed a federal civil suit against a number of Greene County offices and officials in March alleging they violated ADA by not providing him with a qualified reader/writer for his court proceedings.

ADA Elevators: What Are the Requirements?

In a multistory building, elevators are one of the most common ways to provide access for tenants and visitors—and they’re often one of the first accessibility elements added to a new building.

In new and existing buildings, elevators must conform to the guidelines set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law in 1990 and ensures that people with disabilities receive reasonable accommodations in order to participate in society—including access to public and commercial buildings.

When You’re Unsure Whether to ‘Lie’ About Your Mental Illness on a Job Application

We all know when writing a resume, you should write either “good” or “excellent” when you refer to your health. Any other response will make it certain that your resume will be headed straight for the circular file.

But what about your mental health? Most resumes and job applications don’t include a space for that, but what if they did? What would you answer? What should you answer? And should you tell the truth?

In one corner of England, job seekers were encouraged to hedge their bets or flat-out lie. The British newspaper The Guardian reported welfare personnel “have urged jobseekers who have depression to hide their diagnosis and only admit on work applications that they are experiencing ‘low mood.'”

Fortunately, there has been a backlash from mental health organizations, who describe the advice as an “outrage” likely to increase stigma. They point out that “the law provided protection to disabled people, including those with mental health problems, if their disability has a substantial, adverse, and long-term effect on normal daily activities.”

Related:​ To the People on the Other Side of My ‘Bipolar Rage’

The welfare department in question brushed off the controversy by saying the suggestion was only “well-intentioned local advice,” encouraging people seeking jobs to “speak freely about a health condition or disability.” But that’s not a choice everyone is willing to make.

Whether or not to disclose one’s mental health condition when applying for a job is not an easy decision. American law (at the moment) protects employees and potential employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But many people are rightly suspicious that disclosing a mental illness on an application is a one-way ticket to unemployment. Even when applications invite you to disclose and pointedly proclaim they abide by EEOC regulations, many people choose not to disclose.

Disclosing after you’ve been hired or have been working at a place for a while is another matter. Many people (including me) have lost jobs because their bosses and coworkers don’t understand mental illness. There is plenty of motivation never to mention it.

DOJ settles with Hampton hotel where clerks allegedly wouldn’t honor reservations for vets with service dogs

The Justice Department on Wednesday announced settlement agreements with two hotels under the Americans with Disabilities Act to “protect and advance” equal access for veterans with disabilities who use service dogs. One of these hotels is located in Hampton Roads.

The settlement comes after two separate cases in which desk clerks allegedly refused to honor hotel reservations from veterans who had service dogs with them.

Under the agreements — one with the Landmark Hotel Group, which manages the Holiday Inn Express in Hampton, Virginia. and one with Deerfield Inn and Suites in Gadsden, Alabama — the hotels will adopt service dog policies and pay money damages to two veterans following separate alleged incidents involving service dogs.

According to the Landmark Hotel Group’s website, it manages 13 hotels that have nearly 1,400 guest rooms currently under management.

Some of the properties that the Landmark Hotel Group manages in Hampton Roads and the Outer Banks include Hilton Garden Inn, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Hyatt Place, Holiday Inn Express, Candlewood Suites, Crowne Plaza, Staybridge Suites, Country Inn & Suites, Comfort Suites and Comfort Inn.

“Individuals with disabilities, including veterans who have sacrificed for our country, have a right under federal law to the equal enjoyment of the services that a public accommodation provides to the public,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division said in a news release Wednesday.

“The Civil Rights Division is committed to ensuring equal access for our veterans, and we commend these businesses — the Deerfield Inn & Suites and the Landmark Hotel Group — for acknowledging their obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and agreeing to implement policies and practices to ensure equal access for individuals who use service dogs,” he added.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, public accommodations — such as hotels — generally have to make modifications to their policies to allow the use of a service animal by a person with a disability. Service dogs are generally allowed to go where the public is allowed to within a public accommodation.

The ADA defines service animals as dogs individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. Tasks can range from calming a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder to retrieving keys from a hook on the wall.

Anxiety and the ADA

Q: An employee in my company has requested intermittent leave as an accommodation for what he claims is a debilitating “anxiety,” but he has no job performance issues and seems fine to me. Are we required to provide a reasonable accommodation under the ADA for anxiety?

A: The question of whether an employee’s anxiety constitutes a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) is rather tricky for employers. Most people experience some level of anxiety on the job and in every day life, but in the absence of clear behavioral indicators, it may be difficult for employers to assess whether an employee’s anxiety rises to the level of a disability as defined by the ADA. However, as a recent decision from a federal court in the Middle District of Tennessee demonstrates, to enjoy the protections of the ADA, your employee’s accommodation request must be grounded on something more than his generalized claim that he has a “debilitating” anxiety disorder.

In EEOC v. West Meade Place LLP, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleged that the defendant, a nursing home, failed to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee who suffered from an anxiety disorder, and then fired her because of her disability.

The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability with respect to hiring, compensation, discharge, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. In order to establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA, a plaintiff must show that (1) she is disabled, (2) she is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of a position, with or without accommodation, and (3) she suffered an adverse employment action because of her disability.

What Does the Future Hold and Does It Really Matter? 7th Circuit Holds ADA Doesn’t Necessarily Cover Future Impairments

Is everything covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? Although we all know the ADA broadly defines the conditions that are protected disabilities, the Seventh Circuit Court

of Appeals’ decision in Shell v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company, shows that there are limits. Earlier this year, the Seventh Circuit held that obesity alone, without another physiological condition, is not a protected disability. And with the Shell decision last week, the Seventh Circuit held that the ADA does not reach discrimination based on an employer’s belief that an employee is likely to develop a disability in the future.

Feedback Form