Securing an Appellate Court Victory in an ADA Case of First Impression

February 10, 2020

Epstein Becker Green recently achieved a significant victory on behalf of a leading global media organization in connection with an appeal involving a question of first impression for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Among other claims, the former employee alleged that our client violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) in failing to provide a reasonable accommodation for his migraine headaches, which, according to his treating physician, were triggered by stress resulting from what the employee perceived as unjustified critical reviews of his performance. Specifically, the former employee sought a transfer, indicating that he could perform the same job, or a similar one, if supervised by different managers. He was not transferred, and, ultimately, his employment was terminated based on a consistent record of subpar performance. A district court dismissed the former employee’s ADA (and other federal) claims, opining in pertinent part that the former employee was not “disabled” within the meaning of the ADA, largely based on his own admission that he could “do the exact same job he had been doing” as long as he was under new supervisors. 

On appeal, the former employee contended that the district court impermissibly relied on authority that predated the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAAA”) in holding that the former’s employee’s claimed inability to perform a single job, for particular supervisors, did not meet the standard for disability. On behalf of its client, Epstein Becker Green argued that nothing in the ADAAA suggests that the courts should “abandon the common-sense principle that one’s claimed inability to perform only his specific job (particularly because of stress arising from the particulars of that job) does not amount to a substantial limitation on the life activity of working.” Indeed, although this was an issue of first impression for the Second Circuit, other federal circuit courts of appeal have concluded that, even post-ADAAA, one’s claimed inability to perform a single job does not rise to the level of disability. In a per curiam opinion, the Second Circuit agreed, invoking the language from Epstein Becker Green’s briefing: “[N]othing in the ADAAA’s text, or its legislative history for that matter, suggests that Congress intended to modify, let alone abandon altogether,” the “longstanding, common‐sense principle of law [that] recognizes that employees who are precluded only from doing their specific job, or from working under a specific supervisor, do not have a ‘disability.’”

The Second Circuit’s decision in this case is an important win not only for our client but for employers in general, insofar as it clarifies the outer limits of the ADAAA and discourages “failure to accommodate” claims based on symptoms arising from conditions unique to an employee’s particular job circumstances, including his or her relationships with supervisors. 

The Epstein Becker Green team included David W. Garland and Edward M. Yennock