When the Supreme Court decided on Gross v. FBL Financial Services last year, it raised the bar for plaintiffs in age-discrimination claims under the ADEA. Before, plaintiffs had to prove that age was a factor in the adverse employment decision. The Supreme Court said plaintiffs have to prove age discrimination was the only reason they were fired.

New Ruling applies to ADA plaintiffs
Now, a federal appeals court, in Serwatka v. Rockwell Automation, has decided that the same logic applies to other types of discrimination, too — specifically, for lawsuits brought under ADA regulations.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court award of $30,000 in favor of an employee who claimed she was fired because her Wisconsin employer considered her disabled. The appeals court said the language of the ADA is similar to that of the ADEA, and thus the employee had to show her perceived disability was the only reason she was fired.

She failed to do that, so her suit had to be thrown out, the court said.

This decision, if followed by courts elsewhere in the country, will make it harder for disability bias plaintiffs to win their cases. And for HR folks, it means that you can be more confident when you must take disciplinary action against a disabled employee, as long as you can prove you have a good business reason for the action.

Cite: Serwatka v. Rockwell Automation, No. 08-4010, 7th Cir., 1/15/10

photo credit: kjetil_r

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