May 14, 2019
It just became a bit more difficult for plaintiffs within the jurisdiction of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes New York) to succeed on disability discrimination claims brought against their employers under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).
The ADA prohibits employers from “discriminat[ing] against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to . . . the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees.” An employer also may face liability if it refuses to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability and that employee can demonstrate that he or she can perform the essential functions of his or her job if provided with such an accommodation. A plaintiff advancing either type of claim is required to demonstrate a causal connection between his or her disability and the adverse employment action. Until now, the employee litigating his or her claim within the Second Circuit had that causal connection examined under a “mixed motive” analysis.
However, that recently changed in Natofsky v. City of New York, decided on April 18, 2019. In that case, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that the same standard should be used to analyze disability discrimination claims brought under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (which applies to federal employers and employers operating programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance) and disability discrimination claims brought under the ADA. The Court determined that, under both statutes, a plaintiff must prove “that discrimination was the but-for cause of any adverse employment action."
The Court’s adoption of the “but-for” standard means that ADA plaintiffs now face the same hurdle that employees advancing ADEA claims and Title VII retaliation claims face.