In a recent decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAAA) does not apply retroactively. See Lytes v. District of Columbia Water and Sewer Auth., D.C. Cir., No. 08-7002 (7/21/2009). The appellant, a plant operator, injured his back while at work. He was diagnosed with chronic degenerative disc disease and underwent corrective surgery. He stopped working pursuant to medical advice. However, later he was examined, at the request of his employer's workers' compensation insurance carrier, which disagreed with appellant's orthopedic surgeon's recommendation. A functional capacity evaluation was completed by the employer, and it indicated that the appellant had "mild restricted standing and walking tolerances" and limitations in "squatting, bending, ladder climbing, and overhead reaching."
These functional deficits placed the appellant "at the sedentary-light physical demand level with ... a workplace tolerance of 8 hours." Eventually, the appellant was advised he could return to light duty, but his employer told him no such work was available. Subsequently, he received a letter informing him that he was medically disqualified from returning to work as a plant operator and that he had 60 days to find a suitable position within the organization. When he was unable to do so, he was terminated.
The appellant alleged that his employer refused to accommodate his disability and then terminated his employment in violation of the American's with Disabilities Act (ADA). The district court granted summary judgment to the employer because it concluded no reasonable jury could find the appellant was disabled when the alleged discrimination occurred. While the appellant's appeal was pending, the ADAAA became law, so he appealed the summary judgment decision on the basis that under the ADAAA, appellant did meet the legal burden for establishing he was an individual with a disability.
The court of appeals held that although the appellant had a physical impairment at the relevant time, he failed to raise appropriate arguments about what major life activity was affected by his impairment. The court recognized that the ADAAA was enacted to reinstate a broad scope of protection, such as newly designating lifting, bending and working as major life activities. Also, the ADAAA directs that the ADA be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals. However, the ADAAA specifically states the effective date is January 1, 2009. Thus, the legislative intent establishes that the delayed effective date was used to give fair warning of the amendments to affected parties. Consequently, the court found that ADAAA could not be applied retroactively.
Further, under the standard prior to the enactment of the ADAAA, the court held that since appellant did not have contemporaneous evidence that his impairment caused a substantial limitation with respect to lifting or bending, compared to the average person, he did not meet the legal standard of having a disability to receive protection under the ADA. The appellant should have stated how his functional capacity, at the time of the alleged discrimination, was impacted by his disability. Although the evaluation completed by the employer mentions the appellant could not shower, put on his shoes, or use the toilet without assistance, he advised the trial court that he disagreed with much of the content contained in the evaluation and questioned whether it would be admissible at trial. Therefore, the court found that the appellant could not now use the document to establish which major life activities were affected by his physical impairment and sustained the summary judgment based upon the evidence that no reasonable jury could find he was disabled when he was refused accommodation and discharged.