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Third Circuit Rules Reinstates ADA Discrimination Claims in Employment Lawsuit

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a groundbreaking law that protects the rights of people with disabilities in the workplace and in many public businesses. Employers may not discriminate against employees or job applicants on the basis of a covered disability, and they may be required to provide “reasonable accommodations” to allow employees to perform their job duties. The statute also bars employers in many circumstances from requiring medical examinations, or making other inquiries regarding medical conditions. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes New Jersey, recently ruled on a disability discrimination claim that included alleged violations of the ADA provisions regarding reasonable accommodations and medical inquiries. The court reversed a lower court order dismissing those claims, allowing them to move forward. If you feel your employer is not providing reasonable accommodations in light of your medical condition, it may be to your advantage to contact a New Jersey disability discrimination attorney.

In order for a person to establish that they have a “disability” under the ADA, they must show that their impairment “substantially limits one or more major life activities,” or that they are “regarded as having such an impairment.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 12102(1)(A), (C). A “reasonable accommodation” might include physically modifying the work environment or making adjustments to work schedules. See id. at § 12111(9). An employer commits unlawful disability discrimination when, without establishing that doing so would “impose an undue hardship,” they fail to provide a reasonable accommodation to a qualified employee. Id. at § 12112(b)(5)(A).

Employers may not require employees to undergo medical examinations, nor may they inquire about employees’ medical history or medical conditions, except as specifically authorized by the statutes. The ADA specifically prohibits medical examinations or inquiries intended to determine whether an employee has a disability, or to ascertain “the nature or severity of the disability,” except when an employer can show that it is “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” Id. at § 12112(d)(4)(A).

The plaintiff/appellant in the Third Circuit case mentioned earlier worked for a university police department. He suffers from a skin condition known as pseudofolliculitis barbae (PFB), which causes irritation that is exacerbated by shaving. Over time, it can cause inflammation and permanent scarring. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, “a 100% effective treatment is to let the beard grow.”

The appellant alleges that he sought an exemption from his employer’s grooming standards, which require male employees to shave. The employer allows exemptions, according to the court, but requires exempt employees to file a medical certificate “every 60 days to support the exemption.” After the employer denied the appellant’s request for an exemption, he alleges that he was subjected to discriminatory treatment that led to constructive discharge. He filed suit, alleging multiple causes of action. His disability discrimination claims include failure to provide a reasonable accommodation and unlawful medical inquiries.

The district court granted summary judgment to the defendant. The appellant appealed the dismissal of some claims. The Third Circuit overturned summary judgment on constructive discharge, reasonable accommodations, and medical inquiries. It found that there is evidence that the employer failed “to engage in a good faith interactive process” with the appellant regarding his request for an accommodation. It further found that the ongoing medical certificate requirement falls under the ADA’s prohibition on medical inquiries.

If you have questions about a dispute with your employer in New Jersey or New York, the Resnick Law Group’s disability discrimination attorneys are available to help you understand your legal rights. Please contact us today at 973-781-1204, at 646-867-7997, or through our website to schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our team.

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