• ADAAA's Judicial Debut: Cancer in Remission is a "Disability," Regardless of Whether it Substantially Limits a Major Life Activity
  • September 23, 2010 | Author: Michael J. Soltis
  • Law Firm: Jackson Lewis LLP - Stamford Office
  • Since the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act was not retroactive, ADA court decisions addressing facts that arose prior to  January 1, 2009, the ADAAA’s effective date, have continued to apply the original ADA, including the now-overruled Supreme Court decisions in the Sutton trilogy and Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams.

    Now, nearly 20 months after the ADAAA, cases based on facts occurring after January 1, 2009  have made their way through the EEOC administrative process and have reached court.  Perhaps the first ADAAA decision to reach the summary judgment stage illustrates the stark contrast between the original ADA and the ADAAA when it comes to the definition of disability.

    In Hoffman v. Carefirst of Fort Wayne, Inc. d/b/a Advanced Healthcare, the plaintiff had Stage III renal cancer.  The defendant argued that the plaintiff did not have a disability under the ADA because there was no substantial limitation on a major life activity, noting that his cancer was in remission during the period that gave rise to the litigation, and he did not have any work restrictions, performed his regular job duties and did not miss any significant time from work.

    The federal district court in Indiana rejected this argument summarily since the ADAAA states  that “[a]n impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.” The court noted that renal cancer would have substantially limited a major life activity when it was active. The court also relied on the EEOC’s proposed regulations  to implement the ADAAA, which lists cancer as an impairment “that will consistently meet the definition of disability.” Under the original ADA, many courts, after conducting an individualized assessment to determine whether a plaintiff with cancer was substantially limited in a major life activity, had concluded that the plaintiff was not an individual with a disability.

    Given the timing of the litigation process, expect a growing number of decisions arising under the ADAAA. Given the breadth of the ADAAA, expect also that many more plaintiffs will  meet the ADAAA’s definition of disability than met the original definition. Watch also for the EEOC’s  final regulations to implement Title 1 of the ADAAA. While the date for these regulations to be issued is uncertain, it has been more than a year since the EEOC published proposed regulations.