The Second Circuit Court in Carmen Prada v. Banco Industrial De Venezuela, C.A. ("BIV"), et al., Docket No. 12-3525-cv (March 25, 2014), reversed the lower court's summary judgment ruling in favor of the defendant/employer when it held that sitting for prolonged periods of time may constitute a "disability" under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The plaintiff in this case, a Senior Letters of Credit Specialist, a largely sedentary job, sustained a spinal injury in 2007, that prohibited her from sitting for a prolonged period of time.
Despite repeated requests for accommodation, which included breaks to stand up, an ergonomic chair (which plaintiff offered to pay for), BIV refused to accept plaintiff's requests. After wrangling between the parties for months failed to resolve the matter, plaintiff finally took a leave of absence that had no specific return date. The dispute between the parties continued as to the extent of plaintiff's disability, and ultimately, BIV terminated plaintiff's employment under the auspices of "job abandonment."
In reversing the lower court, the Second Circuit indicated that the district court had erred in holding as a bright line rule that the inability to sit for a prolonged period of time does not constitute a "disability." Indeed, this matter was decided by the lower court prior to the effective date of the 2008 amendments to the ADA which arguably expand what conditions qualify as "disabilities," and despite this, the Second Circuit stated that this impairment may nonetheless qualify as a "disability," under the ADA prior to amendment. At the end of the day, the Second Circuit noted the importance of not adhering to bright line tests in determining who is disabled under the ADA, in favor of a factual inquiry on how a "physical or mental impairment substantially limits the major life activities of the individual," as the responsibility of employers in determining what, if any, accommodation may enable such an individual to perform the essential functions of the job at issue.
In sum, the lesson learned is that courts will continue to take a harder look at the facts of how an impairment affects an individual in determining whether or not one is "disabled" under the ADA in lieu of bright line tests of "yes" and "no" as to whether or not certain conditions do in fact qualify.