In a big win for employers, a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit struck back against the notion that, under the 2008 expansion of the ADA, nearly every medical condition requiring work restrictions is a qualifying disability. Instead, the Court held that an employee must show that he or she is limited in performing a class or a broad range of jobs to show a limitation in the major life activity of working.

Michael Booth injured his neck at work in 2004. When he returned to work, he was limited in his ability to reach overhead and in the amount of time he could flex or extend his neck. The employer accommodated his restrictions by moving him to a different assembly line where he worked for nearly a decade. In 2015, Booth repeatedly requested a transfer to a material handling position that he viewed as less stressful, easier, and simpler, but the employer denied the request due to his restrictions. Around the same time, the employer restructured Booth’s assembly line to add two additional duties. Booth alleged that his restrictions prevented him from performing the additional duties. The employer sent him for a reassessment of his ability to work. After re-evaluation by a doctor, all but one of Booth’s restrictions was removed, and Booth was cleared to perform all tasks on his assigned assembly line.

Booth sued, alleging that the re-evaluation and the failure to transfer him were discriminatory under the ADA. The employer asserted that Booth was not disabled and could not make a claim under the ADA. The trial court agreed and awarded the employer summary judgment. Booth appealed.

Recall that the ADA requires that an employee show that: (1) the employee is disabled; (2) the employee was qualified for the position with or without accommodation; (3) the employee suffered an adverse employment action; (4) the employer knew or had reason to know about the disability; and (5) the position remained open while the employer sought other applicants or the individual was replaced. To show that an employee is disabled, the employee must have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of a disability, or is regarded as having such an impairment. Working is one example of a major life activity. In 2008, Congress amended the ADA to cover a broader range of individuals and to make clear that an impairment only needs to substantially limit one major life activity.

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The Sixth Circuit held that simply showing a limitation in performing a particular job is not enough to demonstrate that an employee has a “disability” under the ADA. An employee who alleges an impairment in the major life activity of working must show that he/she is limited in the ability to perform a class of jobs or a broad range of jobs.

The case is Booth v. Nissan North America, Inc., No. 18-5985 (6th Cir. June 7, 2019).