ATLANTA -- The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled the Americans with Disabilities Act only applies to people who are currently disabled – not those who might become disabled in the future.
Legal observers say that if the court had ruled otherwise - in Kimberly Lowe V. STME LLC, doing business as Massage Envy-South Tampa - a flood of litigation could have resulted, clogging court dockets across the country. The case stems from the 2014 firing of a massage studio employee, who asked for time off to visit her sister in Ghana. The woman was not disabled when she requested the time off.
“She wasn’t terminated because of a disability or discriminated against because of a disability. Her employer’s fear, whether that was founded or not, was that she was going to go to Ghana and possibly come in contact with someone who had Ebola, bring it back to the United States and then spread it,” said Anastasia Protopapadakis, ADA attorney with Grey Robinson of Miami.
She noted that the studio owners may have had an irrational fear of Ebola, but they acted within their rights when they terminated the employee.
“You can fire someone for any reason, or no reason at all, as long as its not a discriminatory reason," Protopapadakis said. "You can’t fire someone for their race, or their sex, or their age, or because they are disabled. But you can fire someone for any reason that’s outside of that, even if the reason is silly, like this one was.”
The 11th Circuit reinforced the premise that the ADA only applies to people who are currently disabled, or people who are generally regarded as disabled.
Protopapadakis said the court was correct to refuse to apply the law to people who might become disabled in the future.
“The ADA does not cover non-disabled people, or people who may become disabled in the future. Because then all of us would be covered under the ADA. Any one of us could be disabled in the future,” the attorney said. “If we were to regard every person as covered under the ADA because they might have a disability in the future, that would just open the floodgates of litigation.”
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals covers Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.