In Summers v. Altarum Institute Corp., 740 F.3d 325 (4th Cir. Jan. 23, 2014), the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that a sufficiently severe temporary impairment may be a covered disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act as expanded by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, or ADAAA.
This article by TELG principal Tom Harrington and TELG managing principal R. Scott Oswald was published by Westlaw Journal Government Contract on September 29, 2014. The full article is available as a PDF on our site.
Temporary impairments under the ADAAA and the impact on government contractors
In January, in Summers v. Altarum Institute Corp., 740 F.3d 325 (4th Cir. Jan. 23, 2014), a suit involving a government contractor and its employee, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a sufficiently severe temporary impairment may be a covered disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Central to the 4th Circuit’s decision was the expanded definition of “disability” under the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, or ADAAA.
The Summers decision is significant for several reasons. First, the appellate court applied the ADAAA’s definition of “disability” to hold that a temporary impairment can constitute a disability if it is sufficiently severe. Second, the decision highlights an employer’s duty to view broadly the definition of “disability.” And third, the decision suggests that an employer cannot bypass the interactive process simply because company policies (or, in the Summers case, the policies of the employer and the government) do not clearly allow a certain accommodation. The “interactive process” is the way in which a disabled employee and the employer discuss and determine how the employee’s disability may be reasonably accommodated. The parties must engage in the process in good faith and explore all reasonable options, although employers are not required to make accommodations that would impose an “undue hardship."