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Fired Employee With HIV May Bring Claim Under Amended ADA

A man who was fired one day after telling his supervisor he was HIV positive may bring a claim foremployment discrimination and impermissible medical inquiry claims under the amended Americans with Disabilities Act. In Horgan v. Simmons, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois determined HIV falls within the new definition of “disability” as set forth under the amendments.

Not all illnesses or injuries are covered by the ADA. The ADA only protects “qualified individuals.” Qualified individuals are those with any medical, physiological, or psychiatric condition that substantially limits a major life activity.

In Horgan, the Illinois District Court evaluated whether HIV constitutes a covered disability. Writing for the court, Judge Ruben Castillo held that it is, reasoning that HIV falls within the category of being an “episodic or in remission” that “substantially limits a major life activity when active.” The court further noted that the operation of ‘major bodily functions,’ including an individual’s immune system are considered “major life activities” for the purpose of defining an actual disability under the ADA.

In addition to determining whether HIV was a covered disability, the court also reviewed whether facts exists showing that the president of the company improperly inquired into Horgan’s medical status after he told Horgan he was “really worried about him” and needed to know if “there was something medical going on.”
After persistent questioning, Horgan revealed his prognosis, but indicated that it did not affect his ability to work and be productive. However, the company president continued to ask questions about his condition. Horgan was told that he “should go on vacation” and “leave the plant immediately.” The president also sent out an email stating effective immediately Horgan was no longer a member of the company.

Under the ADA employers are prohibited from asking whether an employee has a disability or inquiring into the “nature or severity of such disability” unless the questions are job-related and consistent with business necessity.” In this situation, Horgan was both pressured to reveal his condition and discuss the nature and severity after he indicated that his condition did not affect his work.

As a result, the court determined that the plaintiff easily cleared the procedural hurdles in order to withstand a motion to dismiss – he gave the company adequate notice of the claims and the grounds on which they rest and the allegations suggest Horgan has a right to relief.

When you’re injured or suffer from a major illness or disability, some employers may assume you are unfit to perform a task or have biases against your work abilities. In some cases, their actions may be considered discriminatory and in violation of the ADA. Other state and federal laws may be involved as well, including short or long term disability, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and Georgia Workers’ Compensation. If you have a serious injury or disability and have questions concerning your employment rights, please contact The Buckley Law Firm, LLC, a Georgia employment law firm dedicated to protecting employee’s rights.

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