• Former Disabled Employees Lack Standing Under Title I of ADA
  • January 28, 2009 | Author: Scott M. Gilbert
  • Law Firm: Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP - Chicago Office
  • Three former auto industry employees accepted early retirement options under their employer’s pension plan. After the employees retired, they also began receiving Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (“SSDIB”). As a result, pursuant to provisions in the pension plan, the employees’ pension benefits were reduced by the amount received in SSDIB benefits. The employees filed suit under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), alleging that the pension plan did not provide equal access to disabled employees. Relying on the plain language of the ADA, the Sixth Circuit held that the former employees did not have standing to file suit. Acknowledging that federal appellate courts are split on the issue, the Sixth Circuit accepted the majority position that former disabled employees cannot be considered “qualified individuals” under the ADA. Consequently, such employees cannot file suit seeking protection under the ADA. Critical to the court’s analysis was the fact that the employees at issue were totally disabled, meaning they could no longer perform the essential functions of their former job. As the court put it, in order to seek protection under the ADA, an individual must be able to perform the essential functions of employment at the time the alleged discrimination occurred.  While the Sixth Circuit’s holding represents a plain reading of the eligibility requirements under the ADA, employers should understand the limited nature of this holding, as former disabled employees who could still perform their job with a reasonable accommodation could have standing under the ADA. Additionally, pension plans that treat employees differently based on various medical conditions might still trigger liability under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”).

    McKnight v. General Motors Corp., No. 07-1479 (6th Cir., Dec. 4, 2008)