The 6th Circuit Federal Court, which includes Tennessee, has finally departed from an unreasonably difficult burden placed upon workers asserting rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Historically, the law required the trial courts to instruct juries that an employee’s disability must be sole reason for his or her firing. In other words, if the jury believed an employee was fired because of a disability, but was also fired for another reason, the employee would lose. That is right. If the worker was fired because they lost a limb, but the employer also created another reason for the termination, there was no remedy for the disabled employee.
The 6th Circuit Federal Court, in the case of Lewis vs. Humboldt Acquisition Corporation, rightfully found that the burden on the employee to show that disability was the sole reason for being fired put an unfair burden on the employee because it gave the employer incredible leeway in creating “other valid reasons” for the firing. In this case, Susan Lewis filed a lawsuit against the Humboldt Acquisition Corporation in 2007 alleging that she was terminated for a medical condition that made it difficult for her to walk and required her to need a wheelchair. The Corporation alleged that Lewis was terminated due to a profanity based incident with her supervisors and not solely because of her disability. The Court instructed the jury to only rule in Lewis’ favor if her disability was the sole reason for her being terminated. The jury ruled in favor of the Corporation.
When Lewis appealed the decision, she argued that the court should have told the jury that her disability only had to one “motivating” factor, the same standard that is used for cases of discrimination based on race, religion, and gender. She reasoned that The Americans with Disabilities Act was brought about to expand protections beyond those protected classes to cover disability discrimination; therefore, Lewis claimed the same test, that the disability was a “motivating” factor and not simply the sole reason, should apply.
The 6th Circuit Court drew away from the “motivating” factor, but they settled on an intermediate test that would require employees to prove that they would not have been terminated if they did not have a disability. This same test is applied to age discrimination claims where an employee must be able to show that he would not have been terminated absent age discrimination.
In Tennessee as well as all across the United States, employees are not allowed to be fired because of gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, and much more. Unfortunately, many companies and businesses find ways around these laws and terminate employees for these reasons all too often. If you or someone you work with feels that you have been discriminated against due to a disability, then you should talk to a Tennessee employment and ADA lawyer right away. They will hear your case and make sure that you get the compensation that you deserve.
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