AARP’s brief urges a federal appeals court to uphold the spirit and letter of federal disability antidiscrimination law.
Carl Summers worked for Altarum (a contractor that provides services for its clients) for part of the year in 2011, during which time he suffered a very serious injury that required surgery to fit a metal plate, screws and donated bone to his leg, among other remediation efforts. His doctors estimated that his recovery would in the best of all circumstances take between seven months and a year. Fourteen months after his injury, he still suffered pain when walking short distances. Summers testified that he spoke to an Altarum human resources employee about working from home, and then sent various emails including plans for working from home. He stated Altarum’s human resources representative agreed to talk about his accommodations, but never did. Summers was informed he would be terminated because a client of the company asked that he be replaced, and Altarum had no other assignments for him.
Summers argued that Altarum never considered or explored with this client the possibility of him working from home. He filed a complaint alleging the company had discharged him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), discriminating against him because he was disabled even though they had not offered him the reasonable accommodations required of disabled employees. The company argued that a temporary disability did not count as a disability, and thus they were not required to offer him reasonable accommodations.
AARP’s friend-of-the-court brief, filed by AARP Foundation Litigation attorneys in conjunction with attorneys from the National Employment Lawyers Association, reviews the definition of “disability” under the ADA and the law’s provisions regarding “reasonable accommodation.” The brief points out that rulings from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission make it clear that the duration of an actual impairment is not dispositive, but is merely one factor to be considered in determining whether a person is disabled. Congress in enacting ADA amendments in 2008, in fact, clearly recognized temporary disablements as disabilities. Moreover, the brief argues, the company incorrectly only gauged the disability in terms of its effects on Summers’ ability to work. A disability that affects any major life function – including, for example, walking – is clearly covered by the ADA. Finally, the brief argues that telecommuting was a clearly reasonable accommodation that was rejected out-of-hand by Altarum.
What’s at Stake
Approximately half of AARP members work or are seeking work, and it is critically important for them that antidiscrimination laws be strictly enforced – be they laws regarding age discrimination, or disability discrimination. Because the incidence of disability increases with age, the protections of the ADA and its state counterparts are significant to older workers.
Summers v. Altarum is before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.