Court Must Consider Plaintiffs' ADA Qualification to Certify Class

July 24, 2009 ( - The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a district court's certification of a nationwide class of employees alleging unlawful discrimination by United Parcel Service.

The Legal Intelligencer reports that the 3rd Circuit said the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania improperly certified the class to bring a pattern-or-practice discrimination suit under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 because it failed to consider whether individual class members were qualified under the ADA. The appellate court remanded the case for proceedings consistent with its opinion.

In the 87-page opinion, Chief Judge Anthony Scirica said the district court relied solely on the “Teamsters framework,” a two-stage method of proof for adjudicating pattern-or-practice claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that was born out of the 1977 U.S. Supreme Court case International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. United States. “Contrary to the District Court’s conclusion, adopting the Teamsters method of proof to adjudicate plaintiffs’ claim does not obviate the need to consider the ADA’s statutory elements,” Scirica said, according to the Legal Intelligencer. “We believe this error in identifying the legal standard controlling plaintiffs’ claims resulted in an improper grant of class certification.”

Scirica said the district court found that if the plaintiffs were able to prove that the alleged discriminatory policies existed and were part of UPS’s “standard operating procedure,” that would be enough to establish, during the first Teamsters stage of proceedings, that UPS had engaged in a class-wide pattern or practice of ADA-prohibited discrimination and for the claims alleging the discrimination to be certified under Rule 23(a) and (b)(2). The district court also found that inquiries regarding individual class members could be held over until the second Teamsters stage, which is devoted to questions of individual relief, but Scirica said “the Teamsters framework alone … does not justify this conclusion.”

According to the news report, Scirica added: “That the existence of the policies alleged by the plaintiffs can be adjudicated on a classwide basis … does not mean that these policies, if proven to exist, would amount to a classwide showing of unlawful discrimination under the ADA,” noting that the mere existence of a second Teamsters stage devoted to individual relief does not necessarily mean that all individualized inquiries with respect to a given class can be delayed until then.

Scirica concluded that the class in Hohider v. United Parcel Service does not meet ADA standards because it “contains no unifying or limiting criteria — with respect to employment positions held or desired, for instance, or conditions suffered, or accommodations sought — that potentially would permit classwide evaluation of whether each member of the class is ‘qualified’ and thus can perform the essential function of a given job with or without reasonable accommodation.”

In the case, plaintiffs claim that UPS has an unwritten policy of requiring that injured or ill employees must be “100 percent cured” before they can return to work. They allege that UPS requires all employees returning from medical leave to present a full medical release certifying that the employee is able to perform the “essential functions” of his or her last job, which almost always include excessively demanding physical requirements designed to keep impaired employees from returning, and that UPS attempts to foreclose impaired employees from returning to work by requiring them to go through a 10-step process to determine whether their disabilities can be accommodated.

The 3 rd Circuit opinion is here .