Tag Archives: disability

Is Attendance An Essential Function Of The Job?

In E.E.O.C. v. Ford Motor Co., 2014 WL 1584674 (6th Cir. 2014), the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals weighed on the issue of essential functions of a job under the American Disabilities Act.  Specifically, whether physical presence was one of these.  The Sixth Circuit remanded the summary judgment decision because it found that there is a genuine issue of whether this was the case.  The Court noted that courts should consider that while physical presence is required for some jobs, it is not required for all positions.

In this case, the plaintiff suffered of irritable bowel syndrome, which often made her unable to control her bowel. The plaintiff requested accommodations by allowing to telecommute. Since this was denied, the plaintiff had to take FMLA leave, which caused her to miss work and her work suffered.  Consequently, she was terminated.

It reasoned:

When we first developed the principle that attendance is an essential requirement of most jobs, technology was such that the workplace and an employer’s brick-and-mortar location were synonymous. However, as technology has advanced in the intervening decades, and an ever-greater number of employers and employees utilize remote work arrangements, attendance at the workplace can no longer be assumed to mean attendance at the employer’s physical location. Instead, the law must respond to the advance of technology in the employment context, as it has in other areas of modern life, and recognize that the “workplace” is anywhere that an employee can perform her job duties. Thus, the vital question in this case is not whether “attendance” was an essential job function for a resale buyer, but whether physical presence at the Ford facilities was truly essential. Determining whether physical presence is essential to a particular job is a “highly fact specific” question.

Id. at *6 (emphasis added).

The reach of the opinion is unclear.  The Court also noted:

It is important, at this juncture, to clarify that we are not rejecting the long line of precedent recognizing predictable attendance as an essential function of most jobs. Nor are we claiming that, because technology has advanced, most modern jobs are amenable to remote work arrangements. As we discussed above, many jobs continue to require physical presence because the employee must interact directly with people or objects at the worksite. See, e.g., Melange, 482 F. App’x at 84 (custodian). We are merely recognizing that, given the state of modern technology, it is no longer the case that jobs suitable for telecommuting are “extraordinary” or “unusual.” Vande Zande, 44 F.3d at 545; Smith, 129 F.3d at 867–68. When we decided Smith in 1997, we responded to the world as it then existed; however, in the intervening years, communications technology has advanced to the point that it is no longer an “unusual case where an employee can effectively perform all work-related duties from home.”

Id. at *11 (emphasis added).

This decision is interesting in many different levels.  First, the use of technology is being considered as a reasonable accommodation. Second, it adds to the trail of cases focusing on electronic communications.

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AMA declares obesity a disease

The American Medical Association (AMA) declared that obesity is a disease and not a condition.  AMA board member Patrice Harris stated in a statement,

Recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue.

As background, the U.S. has been consistently rated as No. 1 in obesity.  Recently, Mexico took the No. 1 spot and the U.S. moved to No. 2.  See Huffington article, Mexico Obesity Rate Surpasses The United States (July 9, 2013).  Mexico was reported to have 32.8% obesity rate while the U.S. has a rate of 31.8%.

This new definition may have an unknown impact in disability claims.  The ABA Journal reports:

Although the AMA’s action was intended to affect medical treatment for the obese, “there’s a high probability it will make it easier for an obese employee to argue that he or she is disabled,” said partner Myra Creighton of Fisher & Phillips.

“It may be easier for employees to prove disability discrimination,” Creighton, who represents employers, told the newspaper. “And, if classified as a disease, it will be difficult for employers to argue that any level of obesity is not an impairment.”

The EmploymentEmployment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has previously defined a “morbid” obese individual as disabled.  Seee.g.JD Supra, Morbid Obesity as a Covered Disability under the ADA (July 30, 2012)EEOC Press Release (July 24, 2012); EEOC Press Release (Apr. 10, 2012), EEOC Press Release (Sept. 27, 2011).

It would be interesting to see if the EEOC will change its definition of obesity as a disability.

via Obesity is a disease, AMA says, aiding weight-related disability claims – ABA Journal.

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DOL clarifies expansion of FMLA due to ADAAA

The DOL published Administrator’s Interpretation No. 2013-1, which clarifies the expansion of FMLA.  The DOL explained that the ADA Amendments Act (“ADAAA”) expanded more than just employer liability for disability claims, but also expanded the scope of FMLA coverage for children.

The DOL clarified the following.

  • The DOL adopted the ADA’s definition of disability to define “mental or physical disability” for purposes of defining a son or daughter 18 years or older.  See 58 Fed. Reg. 31794, 31799 (June 4, 1993).  The 2008 FMLA Final Rule explicitly adopts the ADAAA’s changes to the ADA’s definition of disability;
  • The definition of a “son or daughter” is defined by the definition of a disability under the ADAAA, which “shall be construed in favor of broad coverage;”
  • The determination of whether an adult son or daughter is incapable of self-care under the FMLA focuses on whether the individual currently needs active assistance or supervision in performing three or more activities of daily living (or ADLs) including “grooming, hygiene, bathing, dressing and eating;” or instrumental activities of daily living (or IADLs) including “cooking, cleaning, shopping, taking public transportation, paying bills, maintaining a residence, using telephones, and using a post-office, etc.;”
  • A serious health condition is an illness, injury impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves inpatient care or continuing treatment by a healthcare provider; and
  • For a parent to take FMLA leave to care for an adult son or daughter, the parent must be “needed to care” for that son or daughter due to the serious health condition.

In the Administrative opinion, the DOL provides examples.

via Department of Labor Clarifies When an Employee May Take FMLA Leave to Care for Adult Children | Orrick – Global Employment Law Group – JDSupra.

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Court orders legal representation for immigrants in deportation proceedings

I first came across this decision when I was listening to NPR.  In this case, which is a first of its kind, a federal judge ordered that states have to provide legal representation for immigrants with mental disabilities – when these immigrants are being detained and facing deportation.

This case is really surprising because immigrants generally do not have a right to an attorney.  The Supreme Court in Gideon v. Wainwright, 371 US 335 (1963), decided that the right to counsel is a fundamental right in criminal cases.  In INS v. Lopez-Mendoza, 468 US 1032 (1984), the Supreme Court reaffirmed that a deportation case is not a criminal case, but an administrative one.

Since deportation proceedings are not a criminal crime, there is no right to a lawyer.  The detainees not guaranteed counsel had presumably covered children, the mentally disabled, victims of sex trafficking, refugees, torture survivors and legal permanent residents.

Federal Judge Dolly M. Fee ordered immigration courts in three states to provide legal representation for immigrants with mental disabilities who are in detention and facing deportation, if they cannot represent themselves.  The immigrant in this case had severe mental retardation that prevented him from arguing for himself in court or even understanding his situation.

The NY Times reports that subsequently, “federal immigration officials issued a new policy that would expand the California ruling nationwide, making government-paid legal representation available to people with mental disabilities in courts in every state.”

Edited: To add other Supreme Court cases.

via Legal Aid Ordered for Mentally Disabled Immigrants – NYTimes.com.

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FMLA and Adult Children?

On January 14, 2013, The Department of Labor issued a new interpretation that clarifies its position on the ability of employees to take leave under the FMLA to care for an adult child who has a disabling medical condition.  You can read the DOL’s guidance for adult children here.

The FMLA allows employees to take leave to care for a son or daughter with a serious health condition.  However, the scope of allowable leave narrows once an employee’s son or daughter reaches 18 years old.  At that point, a parent is entitled to take FMLA leave when all four of the following occur:

(1) the adult child has a disability as defined by the ADA;

(2) the child is incapable of self-care due to that disability;

(3) the child has a serious health condition; and

(4) the child is in need of care due to the serious health condition.

Prior to this interpretation, there was some question as to whether the adult child’s disability must have developed before the child reached 18 years of age for the parent to be eligible for FMLA leave.  The Department of Labor has now clarified that the age of onset of the disability is immaterial so long as the child at issue has a disability under the ADA.

This interpretation reflects the impact of the ADAAA’s expansion of the definition of “disability” on the FMLA and will enable more parents to take FMLA-protected leave to care for their adult sons and daughters with disabilities.

via New Department of Labor Interpretation on FMLA Leave for Adult Children | Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC – JDSupra.

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ERISA: Is risk of relapse a disability?

This ERISA long-term disability case brings an interesting question.  Is an individual still disabled even though the disabling event has already passed – just because of the possible risk of relapse?  In other words, if person A had a disability event in 2000, is person A still considered disabled just because of what might or might happen in the future?

In Colby v. Union Sec. Ins. Co., 11-2270, the First Circuit Court of Appeals decided just that.  In this case, the issue was whether the future risk of relapse by an anesthesiologist who had been diagnosed with addition rendered the anesthesiologist disabled for purposes of a long-term disability policy.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals decided this case based on the language of the policy.  Under the policy language, covered “sickness” including mental health issues, including substance abuse, dependence, and addiction.  While in treatment, plaintiff’s doctors consistently held that the risk of relapse was “high” and recommended plaintiff not return to work for a period of 6 months.  Shortly thereafter, plaintiff relapsed.  After the relapse and due to the continuing high risk of relapse, plaintiff’s doctors agreed plaintiff should remain disabled for some period of time after plaintiff’s discharge.

This case arose because the the insurance company maintained that the risk of relapse (regardless of the degree) did not constitute as a disability under the plan.

After looking at the policy language, the First Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.  There was nothing in the policy that stated that risk of relapse should not be covered as a disability.  The court stated,

To begin, the language of the plan admits of no such categorial bar.  It does not mention risk of relapse, let alone exclude risk of relapse as a potential basis for a finding of disability.

In the words of the Boston ERISA Law Blog:

So there you have it: if you don’t want to cover the currently rehabilitated participant whose risk of relapse means he can’t go back to work, you better write that down somewhere in the plan or the policy.

via Is the Risk of Relapse a Disabling Condition for Purposes of an LTD Policy? : Boston ERISA Law Blog.

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ERISA – changing the reason for denial not allowed

I came across this interesting ERISA cases.  In both cases, the court held that the claims administrator could just not change the reason for denying the benefits.

In both of these cases, the courts ultimately held that the record and the basis for denying benefits were effectively frozen and could not be changed at a later time.

In Rossi v. Precision Drilling Oilfield Servs. Corp. Employee Benefits Plan, 11-50861 (5th Cir. 2013), the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the claims administrator was not allowed to change the basis for a denial of benefits during the internal appeal.

Initially, the claims administrator denied the benefits because Rossi was not receiving sufficient medical care to be incurring medical expenses.  During the administrative appeal, however, the claims administrator changed his rationale.  The claims administrator denied the benefits because the plan had an exclusion for inpatient care.  The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment and remanded the case.

In Sun Life Health Ins., SACV 11-01516, the District Court for the Central District of California held that the claims administrator was not allowed to deny benefits based on factual investigation during the litigation.

In this case, Sun Life granted short-term disability benefits, but denied the plaintiff long-term disability (LTD) benefits.  Sun Life denied the LTD benefits because plaintiff had failed to satisfy the 180 elimination period, and because plaintiff was not employed at the time the medical evidence supported the disability.

During the litigation, Sun Life identified other facts to support its allegation that the claims should be denied.  As a side note, none of the facts raised during the litigation (which never came up during the investigation or appeal) were reviewed by any doctors.

  • First, Sun Life stated that the denial was supported by the fact that plaintiff “did not seek or receive any treatment” prior to the mental-breakdown event.  Sun Life explained that the treatment that plaintiff received after the mental-breakdown event was not his choice.
  • Second, Sun Life stated that plaintiff was unlikely to be disabled because prior to the mental-breakdown, he had gone on a gambling spree.
  • Third, Sun Life stated that after the mental-breakdown but before the hospitalization of plaintiff, plaintiff “appeared to have lived with his family…without incident.”

The district court did two things.  First, it stated that those rationales were inapplicable because they were not raised before and never reviewed by medical professionals.  Second, the court went through the factual rationales and explained why they were unsupported based on the facts.

 

via Don’t Look Back, Something Might Be Gaining On You: Whether a Plan Administrator Can Raise New Bases For Denying a Claim Beyond Those Raised in the Initial Denial of Benefits : Boston ERISA Law Blog.

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Lower pay for related care givers struck down

Minnesota Lawyer (Dec. 24, 2012, subscription required) has an interested article regarding Minn. Stat. 256B.0659 (2011).  In 2011, the Minnesota legislature passed a bill stating that non relative personal care attendants were to receive a pay rate of 80% of the non relative pay.  In other words, relative personal care attendants would receive a 30% pay cut.  In Healthstar v. Home Health, Inc. v. Jesson, the Court of Appeals reversed the Ramsey District Court decision.  The court struck down the statute.

The court held that the statute did not meet the prong of showing that the bill was not manifestly arbitrary of fanciful, but that it must be genuine and substantial.  The court stated that the commissioner’s argument was “based on an assumption that relative PCAs will continue to provide care even if affected by a pay cut.”

The court further stated that “the rationale for the distinction advanced by respondent is based purely on assumptions rather than facts, including the apparently unchallenged assumption that a moral obligation to provide care for a relative necessarily equates to a moral obligation to personally provide such care at a lower rate of pay than a nonrelative PCA would receive for the same work.”

The Court of Appeals also held that the statute did not meet the prong that the classification must be genuine or relevant to the purpose of the law.  The court stated that the commissioner did not show any facts in support of its assumption.

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No Fault Attendance Policies

A nationwide class disability lawsuit against telecommunications giant Verizon Communications has been settled for $20 million and significant equitable relief, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was no doubt happy to announce today – it’s the largest single disability bias settlement in the agency’s history. The EEOC filed suit against 24 named subsidiaries of Verizon Communications, alleging the company unlawfully denied reasonable accommodations to hundreds of employees and disciplined and/or fired them pursuant to Verizon’s “no fault” attendance plans.

via Verizon will pay $20 million to settle EEOC nationwide disability bias suit over inflexible attendance policy | Employment Law Daily.

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