An Amazon company employee is pursuing an employment discrimination lawsuit after he was fired, he argues, because of his disability. The employee had heart valve replacement surgery in 2015 and part of his recovery requires him to inject blood thinners every day to “ensure the smooth functioning of his new mechanical valve.” This disability did not interfere with the employee’s ability to perform his essential job functions, but did require him to take a short “five-to-ten minute break from his workstation” each day. The lawsuit accuses Amazon of failing to accommodate the employee’s need to administer medically necessary medication to tend to an ongoing disability. The lawsuit argues that Amazon was more interested in its efficiency rates and how the employee’s daily breaks would affect them.
Amazon Employee Fired for Dealing With Medical Condition
The interesting part of the Amazon case is that the employee was granted medical leave after he suffered heart complications. However, shortly after the leave ended and the employee returned to work he was fired. The reason for his firing? Amazon said that the leave was not approved, after all. Did the employee have a disability under the eyes of the law, and therefore protected by antidiscrimination laws? Or, did his condition not quite rise to the level of a “disability”?
What is Considered a Disability Under the Law?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines the term “disability” and provides guidance for understanding if you have a protected condition. The term disability means an individual who “has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” A disability under the ADA also requires (1) “a record of such an impairment, and (2) “being regarded as having such an impairment.”
The ADA wants the definition to be interpreted broadly so that it fully captures individuals struggling with a debilitating condition.
What Are Major Life Activities?
Major life activities are defined by the ADA as including “most activities previously recognized under the law, such as walking and seeing…reading, bending, and communicating” and “major bodily functions, such as functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, respiratory, neurological, brain, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.”
The term “substantially limits” is subjective and varies with each individual. However, if you have a condition that makes it difficult to perform a major life activity, you may be considered to have a disability under the ADA. So, in the case of the Amazon employee, his heart condition could have been severe enough to substantially limit his body to perform a major bodily function (circulation). If we agree to call his condition a disability, the question then becomes whether or not it was protected under antidiscrimination laws.
Requirements For Protection Against Employment Discrimination Under the ADA
Generally, employers are prohibited from discriminating against an individual for (a) having a disability or (b) associating with another individual who has a disability. However, simply having a disability will not prevent an employer from (a) choosing not to hire you or (b) taking adverse action on your employment. To be protected under Federal and California antidiscrimination laws you must be a Qualified Person with a Disability.
What is a qualified person with a disability? If you have a disability and are interested in a job, you must be qualified to perform what are known as the essential functions of the position. Essential functions vary and are specific to each individual job. For example, let’s say that you are interested in being a letter carrier. To be a qualified person with a disability you would have to be able to perform the job functions essential to that position. According to the Postal Employee Network, a letter carrier “is required to be able to lift up to 70 pounds – in the office or while on the street. Street duties require constant bending, twisting, stooping, lifting and climbing of stairs or hills in all types of weather.” If you had a disability that prevented you from doing these tasks you would probably not qualify for protection under the ADA if the employer chose not to hire you.
The employer would, however, have to “reasonably accommodate” your disability if they chose to hire you. Providing reasonable accommodation could be assigning you to a desk position, permitting you to use special equipment, or allowing frequent breaks to rest. Failure to provide reasonable accommodation may be grounds for a discrimination lawsuit.
An Attorney Can Help Determine Whether You Were the Victim of Employment Discrimination
If you think that you were the victim of discrimination at work because of a disability you should contact an experienced attorney to learn about your legal rights. No two cases are the same. The facts and circumstances of each case vary significantly. An attorney can review your claim, research prior discriminatory behavior of your employer, and help to determine whether you were the victim of a type of discrimination that may warrant a lawsuit for damages. Contact our office today for a free consultation and to learn about how we may be able to help you.