Human Resources News & Insights

Cancer in remission still a disability, court rules

Want to know how courts are going to handle Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits from here on in? A recent case out of Texas provides a clue.

Here are the highlights:

Michael Norton was working at an assisted living facility when he was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor on his left kidney.

He took time off for surgery, and returned to work shortly thereafter with his cancer in remission – only to be fired one month later.

Norton sued, claiming disability discrimination.

The firm countered that Norton was fired for poor performance. It added that Norton didn’t have a disability, anyway – his cancer was in remission.

Here’s the key part of the federal district judge’s ruling:  The new ADA states that impairments that are in remission still count as a disability if they’d substantially limit a major life activity – such as normal cell growth – when active.

That’s a crucial change in the new ADA regs — an outgrowth of the ADA Amendment Act’s broadening of the definition of a “major life activity.”

Seems likely this will be the trend for ADA decisions in the near-future.

Cite: Norton v. Assisted Living Concepts, Inc.

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Comments

  1. What am I missing here? “The new ADA states that impairments that are in remission still count as a disability if they’d substantially limit a major life activity – such as normal cell growth – when active.”

    Isn’t that true for anyone? If we had this active impairment it would limit major life activity? Granted, in remission obviously significantly raises the chances it will become active versus someone who doesn’t have it all, but still. Seems like a strange way to rationalize why it is a disability.

  2. What about Mr Norton’s claim?? If the termination was for performance how is this a lawsuit unless a reasonable accomodation was not granted?

  3. Joanna G. says:

    As I correctly remember, according to various medical data and doctors’ opinions, patient has to be cancer-free for several years in order to be consider healthy. My understanding is that only then the new ADA definition would not hurt employer who fired this worker. Looking at the overall scenario, employer fired this worker to avoid potential lack of work on his part, to avoid paying for sick days because such will definitely take place. Other words, employer wanted to have strong and healthy vs. one who will be much weaker for some time. And giving employee only 1 months to adjust is somewhat unjust. I agree with worker. It would be nice to put ourselves in “someone else’s shoes” for a change.

  4. Concerned says:

    I do think that they should have given this employee more than one month to get back into the swing of things before trying to fire him. One month is hardly enough time to know if this employee was actually someone that still needed to be out.

  5. Joanna makes a valid point. I agree that the employer’s behavior in terminating the employer was
    a case of looking after the best interests of the business and no consideration for the employee.
    Cancer of a major organ is not simple and clear cut “surgery took it out and it is over”. How many times have patients died after being told the surgery “got it all”?

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