Worker with “occasional flare-ups” could be considered disabled under the law

An employee who suffered sporadic muscle flare-ups can sue his employer for disability discrimination where the business failed to accommodate his occasional problem, a federal appeals court recently ruled.
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The worker, a parts manager at an AutoZone store, had a condition that caused intermittent tightening in his back muscles. When the condition flared up, he couldn’t perform specific tasks.

The company fired him after keeping him on involuntary medical leave for more than a year.

The worker sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In response, AutoZone argued that he wasn’t “disabled” because his condition only occasionally limited him in his ability to perform major life activities.

The 7th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, however, disagreed, and said a “predictable yet intermittent pattern” of muscle problems could amount to a disability under the ADA.

The ADA defines “disability” as (a) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of an individual; (b) a record of such an impairment; or (c) being regarded as having such an impairment. See 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2) (2006). The EEOC relied on subsection (a), a physical impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, to argue that the employee was disabled from March 2003 to September 12, 2003, because his condition substantially limited his ability to engage in the major life activity of caring for himself.

Self-care has long been recognized as a major life activity under the ADA. The federal regulations adopted in the year following the passage of the Act listed “caring for oneself” as a major life activity. See 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(i). Courts followed suit. See Holt v. Grand Lake Mental Health Center, Inc., 443 F.3d 762, 767 (10th Cir. 2006) (recognizing self-care as a major life activity under the ADA); Regional Economic Community Action Program, Inc. v. City of Middletown, 294 F.3d 35, 47 (2d Cir. 2002) (providing examples of limitations on self-care); Cehrs v. Northeast Ohio Alzheimer’s Research Center, 155 F.3d 775, 780-81 (6th Cir. 1998) (identifying caring for oneself as a recognized major life activity under the Act); Dutcher v. Ingalls Shipbuilding, 53 F.3d 723, 726 (5th Cir. 1995) (caring for oneself encompasses a broad range of normal activities related to daily living, including feeding oneself, driving, grooming, and cleaning home).

If you have predictable yet sporadic or intermittent condition that renders you unable to do your job, contact the business and employment law attorneys at The Brown Law Firm. We can assist you with obtaining a reasonable accommodation from your employer or help you get compensation if you have been fired because of your disability.

Please note that this communication does not constitute legal advice. If you have a question about this topic or any other business law or employment matter, call or email the Belmont and Boston based Brown Law Firm, LLC, a Massachusetts firm dedicated to business and employment law.

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