Is a Temporary Back Injury a Disability under the Americans’ With Disability (ADA) and its Amendments (ADAAA)? Does the ADAA Cover Injuries?
In the case of Summers v. Altarum Institute, Corp., 740 F.3d 325 (4th Cir. 2014). An employee (a senior analyst for a government contractor), was terminated while on short-term disability for injuries incurred when he fell getting off a subway car. The employee’s injuries, a broken left leg, a broken right ankle, and torn tendons in both legs, required surgery and seven months of recuperation before he could walk normally. The employer moved to dismiss the employee’s discriminatory discharge claim under the ADA on the ground that employee did not allege an impairment that constituted a disability within the meaning of the amended ADA.
Finding that the employee’s complaint sufficiently alleged a violation of the ADA, the court emphasized the language in the amendments to the American with Disability Act (ADAAA) and in EEOC’s regulations implementing the ADA directing that the definition of disability be construed broadly; cited language in the EEOC’s regulations and interpretive guidance making it clear that short-term impairments can be disabilities if they are “sufficiently severe.”. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has stated in their interpretation of the ADAAA that a back impairment resulting in a 20 pound lifting restriction lasting for several months is a disability. The Fourth Circuit held that the EEOC’S regulations were reasonable, given Congress’s goal of providing broad coverage. The EEOC’s interpretation would have consequences “less dramatic” than defendant envisioned, since prohibiting discrimination against individuals with temporary impairments would burden employers only as long as those impairments endure the Court reasoned.
Finally, the employer argued that even if the EEOC’s regulations covered impairments due to permanent or long-term conditions that have only a temporary impact, it did not cover temporary impairments resulting from injuries. The court found no basis for making such a distinction, pointing out that the definition of the term “impairment” in the regulations was very broad.