The ever-evolving ADA disability classifications.

by on January 7, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

As a manager today, ADA guidelines are constantly evolving. This case shows how the definition of ADA disability is difficult to classify.

“This is kind of hard for me to talk about,” Harvey Pruitt said to HR manager Conwell Farnsworth.

“Don’t feel obliged,” Conwell said. “But I’ll listen if you want to talk.”

“Well, it’s this way,” Harvey said. “You know I have diabetes. I used to be able to manage it, but now….” He broke off uncomfortably.

“It’s getting worse?” Conwell said to encourage him to continue.

“Yes,” Harvey said. “I’ve got ulcers on both my feet. My sleep isn’t good. And also my … sex drive. I, um, need injections to, well, perform.”

“I appreciate you leveling with me,” Conwell said. “What would you like me to do?”

Was this ADA compliant?

“To start with, I need some help,” he said. “My job requires me to be on my feet most of the shift, and like I told you, I’ve got trouble with my feet. I could use an assistant, or somebody to spell me.”

“That could be costly,” Conwell said. “We’ll look into it, though. Let me get back to you.”

Conwell didn’t act on Harvey’s request until two months later, when Harvey produced a note from his doctor saying he should be allowed to sit down at least half the time. After receiving the note, human resources and Harvey’s supervisor worked out a new shift schedule that gave Harvey the help he had asked for.

By this time, though, he was angry about the delay. He sued, claiming the company didn’t accommodate him within ADA guidelines in a timely way.

Harvey said he was disabled in part because of his foot problems, and in part because of his sexual dysfunction.

Did he win?

No, Harvey didn’t win his ADA lawsuit. The court said he didn’t prove he had an ADA disability.

First, He didn’t have acute difficulty walking or standing. He just couldn’t stand for a full shift.

As for his reduced ability to perform sexually, the court said this wasn’t a disability under the ADA guidelines either.

The decision might have been different if Harvey had a sexual problem that significantly limited his ability to reproduce. Reproduction, the court said, is a “major life activity,” under ADA guidelines and an impairment preventing it may be considered a disability. But Harvey was able to have sex, with a medical assist.

“Infrequent” isn’t a disability under ADA guidelines

Over the 15 years since the American Disability Act was passed, the courts have recognized a number of “major life activities” that employees can cite as the basis of various disabilities. Reproduction is among these activities under ADA guidelines, but not sexual performance as such.

Employees whose thinking is colored by Viagra ads may consider themselves as having a disability because they don’t have sex as often as they used to. But a mere reduction in frequency or potency isn’t enough to win an ADA lawsuit.

Cite: Scheerer v. Potter, No. 05-2338, 7th Cir., 4/10/06. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.

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