Human Resources News & Insights

The latest ADA-covered activities: golf and sex

At this point, you should just assume that almost every life activity is covered under disability law, as this new case shows.  

‘Oh, you’re having surgery? You’re fired’

Anthony Mazzeo, who provided technical and sales service for Color Resolutions International (CRI), was diagnosed with a herniated disc and torn ligaments in his back, which intermittently affected his ability to walk, sit, stand, bend, run and lift objects heavier than 10 pounds.

Oh, and play golf and have sex.

In speaking with his supervisor and an HR manager, Mazzeo said that possible back surgery would require him to miss two weeks of work and have three to six months of restricted activity. At the time, his supervisor allegedly said the procedure would likely require a longer recovery period of six to eight weeks.

In February 2009, Mazzeo informed his company he’d scheduled back surgery for himself. The very next day, his manager initiated the paperwork for Mazzeo’s termination, which was handed to him two days before his surgery.

Golf and sex

Mazzeo sued, claiming a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

CRI argued that Mazzeo didn’t have a case because he wasn’t actually disabled. And Mazzeo actually said during deposition that his back troubles only affected his ability to play golf and have sex.

Cut and dried, right? Nope. Mazzeo’s doctor submitted an affidavit showing that his back troubles, as mentioned, affected his ability to walk, sit, stand, bend, run and lift objects heavier than 10 pounds.

And as for that sex and golf thing? Eric B. Meyer, writing on The Employer Handbook Blog, put it best:

The implication here is that if the plaintiff’s pre-operation back trouble substantially limited his ability to [insert one of many golf double entrendres here], then he is disabled.

Turned out some of the questions asked during deposition were specifically about Mazzeo’s post-operation/post-termination status — and not about his problems beforehand. The case was sent on to trial.

Meyer also had the following takeaway for HR pros:

… if an employee comes to you requesting an accommodation for a purported disability, don’t expend a lot of brain cells contemplating whether the employee is disabled.

Instead, focus your energy on discussing with the employee what reasonable accommodation(s) will allow that employee to perform the essential functions of the job.

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