SCOTUS to hear retired firefighter’s ADA claims

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to take up the case of a retired Sanford, Florida, firefighter who argued that the Americans with Disabilities Act allows a former employee who earned post-employment benefits while employed to sue over discrimination with respect to those post-employment benefits.
  • In the case, Stanley v. City of Sanford, the employee took disability retirement due to complications of Parkinson’s disease. Sanford maintained a retirement health insurance subsidy fringe benefit that would cover insurance costs for qualifying retirees until age 65. After the firefighter began her job, Sanford reduced the coverage period for employees who retired as a result of full disability.
  • The plaintiff, unaware of the changes, retired and received the subsidy for 24 months before it was discontinued. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — in a decision that split with the 2nd and 3rd Circuits but agreed with the 6th, 7th and 9th —  held that the plaintiff was not a “qualified individual” under the ADA at the time of the alleged discrimination and therefore lacked standing.

Dive Insight:

The ADA defines “qualified individual” to mean a person who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform a job’s essential functions.

Per the writ of certiorari, the 2nd and 3rd Circuits have taken the stance that former employees do not lose their ability to sue an employer for discriminatory practices that harm them when they no longer hold or seek their former position. The 6th, 7th, 9th and 11th Circuits hold that former employees may not sue under the ADA for discrimination with respect to benefits earned while employed.

According to the plaintiff, the ADA’s qualified individual definition “has nothing to do with who may bring suit or when they may do so to complain about conduct that plainly constitutes discrimination.” Instead, that question “is governed by provisions that the ADA expressly incorporates from Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act], and this Court has already held that Title VII permits suit by former employees.”

In an opposition brief, the city said the former employee “neither earned the benefit nor suffered any discrimination on the basis of her disability.” It argued that because nondisabled retirees with fewer than 25 years of service also did not receive a health subsidy benefit until age 65, she was not subject to discrimination on the basis of her disability.

“In fact, Petitioner was treated better than non-disabled retirees with the same amount of service because while they received no subsidy at all, Petitioner received the subsidy for 24 months out of compassion for her disability,” the respondent said.

Additionally, the employer said a majority of circuit courts have found that Title VII’s qualification rules allowing former employees to sue for discrimination are not analogous to the ADA’s “qualified individual” clause.

Oral argument has not yet been scheduled for the case.