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Employment Law Blog
James Tarquin, P.A
As part of our commitment to assist and educate employees in fighting back against the abusive employment practices of employers, we offer a broad range of information about employment law issues in our employment blog.

Must Employees Have An Actual Disability For Protection Against Disability Discrimination?

Thoughtful manager with wheelchair users in the team

For more than twenty years, our Marion County unlawful termination lawyers have fought for the rights of Florida employees. Through their decades of experience representing employees, our Ocala, Florida unlawful termination attorneys know that a common employment law myth is that employees must have an actual disability in order to be protected from disability discrimination under federal employment discrimination law. Because of this employment law myth, employees who have been unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of disability are unaware that their employee rights have been violated. In this article, our Marion County unlawful termination lawyers explain how the decision in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Allstate Beverage Company, LLC,  Case No. 2:19-cv-657 (M.D. Ala. Oct. 17, 2022) demonstrates that employees are not required to have an actual disability in order to be protected from disability discrimination under federal employment discrimination law.

Employee Rights

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against employees on the basis of disability. Under the ADA, employees are protected from disability discrimination when they have an actual disability, a record of having a disability, or are regarded by an employer as having a disability. Under the “regarded as” having a disability, employees who do not have an actual disability are nonetheless protected from disability discrimination when an employer regards or perceives them as having a disability. Thus, what matters for the “regarded as” definition of disability is whether an employer perceived or believed the employee to be disabled, not whether the employee actually had a disability. When an employer terminates an employee based on the perception or belief that the employee is disabled, the employer has unlawfully terminated the employee on the basis of disability in violation of the ADA.

Unlawful Termination Lawsuit

In Allstate Beverage, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought a disability discrimination on behalf of a former employee, Jimmy Freeman (Freeman), of Allstate Beverage Company, LLC (Allstate). The EEOC is the federal agency responsible for enforcing federal employment discrimination law, including the ADA. The EEOC claims that Allstate violated the ADA by terminating Freeman’s employment because it regarded him as disabled.

Allstate is an alcoholic beverage distribution business. It operates a warehouse in Alabama, where Freeman worked throughout his employment with Allstate. Freeman was Allstate’s point-of-sale (POS) warehouse administrator. As the POS warehouse administrator, Freeman’s job duties involved pulling orders for marketing materials (i.e., coolers, signs, displays) and pushing wheeled carts, loaded with these items, across the warehouse about the length of a football field, to stage them for pickup. The loaded carts weighed up to one-hundred pounds depending on the load. According to Freeman, he pushed or pulled a loaded cart about ten times a day. Freeman also testified that the job required lifting and moving heavier items weighing forty to fifty pounds approximately five times per day.

In early March 2018, Freeman had a pulmonary embolism and was hospitalized from March 5-7, 2018. Freeman’s doctor opined that Freeman was healthy enough to return to his job at Allstate on May 2, 2018, but with restrictions. Freeman’s doctor restricted Freeman from lifting, transferring, or carrying more than forty pounds and from pushing or pulling loaded carts. Freeman also believed that by May 2, 2018, he “could do most anything” and “probably didn’t even need [the doctor’s] restrictions” by mid-June 2018.

Allstate, however, felt otherwise. Allstate believed that Freeman could not safely return to work because it considered lifting or pushing carts to be essential functions of his job. Allstate ultimately terminated Freeman’s employment on June 22, 2018, when he did not provide a fitness-for-duty certification from a doctor.

Evidence Of Unlawful Termination

Allstate filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of the EEOC’s claim that Freeman was unlawfully terminated in violation of the ADA. In denying Allstate’s motion for dismissal, the trial court concluded the evidence was sufficient to establish that Allstate fired Freeman because it perceived him as having a disability that prevented him from performing his job. In support of its conclusion, the trial court observed that Allstate required Freeman to take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act for his medical condition, that Allstate prohibited Freeman from returning to work without doctor approval, and that Allstate terminated Freeman when he did not provide a fitness-for-duty certification. Based on this evidence, the trial court determined that a jury could reasonably find that Freeman was terminated based upon a perceived disability.

Free Consultation For Employees

One of the most crucial decisions unlawful termination victims must make is which employment law attorneys to consult with regarding their employee rights. As part of our commitment to helping unlawful termination victims, an experienced employment law attorney will speak with you personally and you will receive the individualized attention your case deserves. We offer free confidential case evaluations for employees, and you will not have to pay to speak with our unlawful termination attorneys regarding your rights. We are available for consultation at your convenience, including scheduling telephone consultations for evenings and weekends.

Marion County Unlawful Termination Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our unlawful termination attorneys in Marion County, Florida have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of unlawful termination victims. If you have been wrongfully terminated or have questions about your employee rights under federal employment discrimination law, please contact our office for a free consultation with our unlawful termination lawyers in Marion County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes unlawful termination cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.

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