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2Q 5H Americans with Disabilities Act | HAWAII LABOR & EMPLOYMENT LAW

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Americans with Disabilities Act
Position Not “Vacant” Under ADA If Filled By Temp

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that a job position was not “vacant” for purposes of the reasonable accommodation analysis under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), where the position was already filled by a temporary worker and would eventually be outsourced.

In Duvall v. Georgia Pacific Consumer  Products (10th Cir., June 9, 2010), the plaintiff suffered from cystic fybrosis and worked in the shipping department of Geogia Pacific (“GP”).  When GP began outsourcing work from its shipping department, the plaintiff transferred to the converting department in the company.   Unfortunately for the plaintiff, the converting department involved converting raw rolls of newly-fabricated paper into finished product (such as napkins), and as a result, the air in the converting department had a significant amount of paper dust.

The dust in the converting department took a major toll on the plaintiff’s health, and he asked to be transferred back to his former position as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.   GP refused this accommodation, stating that his former position was not vacant. The plaintiff then filed a lawsuit under the ADA.

In addressing the plaintiff’s claims, the court first noted that “[i]f a disabled employee can be accommodated to a vacant position . . . the employer must offer the employee the vacant position.”  The court also noted, however, that the job must indeed be “vacant,” and that the term “vacant” had not yet been defined by the federal courts.  The court further noted that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has provided:  “Vacant means that the position is available when the employee asks for reasonable accommodation, or that the employer knows that it will become available within a reasonable amount of time.”

The court then concluded that “a position is ‘vacant’ with respect to a disabled employee for the purposes of the ADA if it would be available for a similarly-situated non-disabled employee to apply for and obtain.”  Based on this conclusion, the court ruled that the job position at issue in this case was not “vacant.”  Therefore, GP did not violate the ADA by refusing to offer the position to the plaintiff.

Employers Can Terminate Employees For Medical Marijuana Use, In Oregon

The Oregon State Supreme Court recently issued a decision in Emerald Steel Fabricators v. Bureau of Labor and Industrial Relations (Oregon, April 15, 2010), which addressed whether employers could terminate an employee for using medical marijuana.

The court’s decision?  Yes!

Oregon has joined California and Washington in ruling that employers can terminate employees for using medical marijuana.  The rationale is that while statutes decriminalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes protects employees from criminal prosecution, the same laws do not prevent employers from terminating an employee for violating a company’s anti-drug policy.

In addition, the employee in question was also found using medical marijuana in an illegal manner anyway.

No Punitive Damages, Compensatory Damages, or Jury Trial for ADA Retaliation Claims

Good news for employers:  A plaintiff who files a claim for ADA retaliation within the Ninth Circuit will not be able to recover compensatory or punitive damages for that claim.  In addition, the plaintiff would also not have a right to a jury trial on the ADA retaliation claim.

In Alvarado v. Cajun Operating Company (9th Cir. Dec. 11, 2009), the Ninth Circuit recently ruled that punitive and compensatory damages are not available for ADA retaliation claims.  In addition, the court also ruled that there is no right to a jury trial for ADA retaliation claims.  In its decision, the court specified that the plain and unambiguous provisions of 41 U.S.C. 1981(a) limit the availablility of compensatory and punitive damages to those specific ADA claims listed; ADA retaliation was not on that list.  In addition, because ADA retaliation claims are redressable only by equitable relief, no jury trial is available as a matter of law.

ADA Amendments Act – Proposed Regulations

The EEOC has issued its long awaited proposed regulations interpreting the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. The proposed regulations explain the new standard for determining whether an individual has a disability.

Following the ADA Amendments Act,the meaning of the term “substantially limits” has been relaxed such that it is no longer necessary to show that a condition prevents or even “significantly” or “severely” restricts an individual’s ability to perform a major life activity.  Rather, an individual may have a disability when he or she is unable to perform a major life activity when compared to most people in the general population.

In addition, the proposed regulations provide that mitigating measures, such as medication or assistive devices, must be disregarded when determining whether an individual has a disability (with the exception of corrective eyewear.)  Also in line with the ADA Amendments Act, the proposed regulations provide that a condition that is episodic or in remission is still a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.

Finally, the proposed regulations listed several conditions that “will consistently meet the definition of disability” and expanded the meaning of the term “regarded as disabled.”

A full copy of the proposed regulations can be found here.

Driving Not a “Major Life Activity” Under the ADA

Yesterday, in Winsley v. Cook County (7th Cir 04/22/2009), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled that driving was not a major life activity under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In its decision, the court noted that major life activities are those that are “so important to everyday life that almost anyone would consider himself limited in a material way if he could not perform them.”  Based on this standard, the court concluded that “this is not the case with driving.”

The court also noted, however, “[a]lthough we hold that driving is not itself a major life activity, the inability to drive nevertheless could create a disability if it caused an impairment of a major life activity.”

The 7th Circuit has now joined the 2nd, 10th, and 11th Circuits in ruling that driving is not a major life activity under the ADA.