Disability Law Limits to be Tested

April 16, 2001 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The boundaries of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which forbids discrimination against disabled workers, are set to be tested as the US Supreme Court decides whether repetitive strain injuries qualify as a disability.

The decision focuses on carpal tunnel syndrome, which affects the hands and wrists of approximately 1 million US workers, including an assembly line worker at Toyota Motor Corp, who developed the syndrome in her wrists and tendonitis in her hands and arms.

Tunnel “Vision”

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The symptoms subsided once she was transferred to another job, but reappeared an intensified when her duties here were later expanded, requiring her to wipe down 60 cars per hour. Her request to have the expanded duties removed was refused and she sued.

Her suit was dismissed when the judge ruled that her physical difficulties did not constitute a disability. However, this was overturned on appeal.

Cutting Line?

In a separate matter, the court will also decide if the law requires an employer to reassign a disabled employee to a different position as a reasonable accommodation, even if another worker is next in line for the position under the company’s seniority system.

The case involves an employee who injured his back in 1990 while working in a cargo position for US Airways. The employee found he could no longer handle cargo and attempted to transfer to the carrier?s mailroom. His attempts were thwarted when two other employees with greater seniority sought to transfer into the mailroom, and he was limited to employment in the cargo area.

The employee proposed that he be provided with special lifting equipment or that his current job be restructured to include only warehouse office work. Those requests were denied.

He charged that US Airways violated the disabilities law by failing to provide other reasonable accommodations and by failing to engage in the ‘interactive process’ to identify reasonable accommodations.

The justices will issue rulings on these cases during the term beginning in October.