6th Circuit eliminates difficult test for proving ADA, employment claims

A sharply divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit on May 25 loosened the legal standard for what an employee must prove to bring a claim under an Americans with Disabilities Act, adopting a standard consistent with all the other appellate courts nationwide.

Gavel on American Flag
Employment Discrimination Ruling

The plaintiff at the center of the case was fired from retirement-home operator Humboldt Acquisition Corp, allegedly because her continued employment at the company required that she use a wheelchair. Humboldt Acquisition claimed it fired her for a profanity-laced outburst.

The district court ruled in favor of Humboldt Acquisition. The 6th Circuit, however, has now reversed the decision, ruling that the district court applied too stringent a standard.

Since 1995, employees with disabilities in court covered by the 6th Circuit have had to prove that they were discriminated against “solely” because of their disability. The ADA, however, only requires employees be discriminated against “because” of their disability to bring a claim, according the May 21 decision.

The case was a 9-7 decision.

The individual in the case argued that the standard should be that disability only has to be a “motivating factor,” but in the earlier case the 6th Circuit ruled that this standard was, in contrast, too lenient. To bring an ADA claim using the “because” standard, an individual must prove that he would not have been discriminated against “but for” the presence of his disability, while the “motivating factor” standard only requires that the disability be among the factors.