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Disability Discrimination Claims Under Federal and Massachusetts Laws

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) generally prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals on the basis of disability. A qualified individual is a person who can perform the essential functions of his or her job, with or without reasonable accommodations. Reasonable accommodations can include modified schedules, modified or new equipment, or job restructuring. There are exceptions for situations in which the reasonable accommodation would cause an undue hardship to the employer. 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq.


Massachusetts law also prohibits discrimination against anyone who alleges to "be a qualified handicapped person" who is able to perform the essential functions of the job with a reasonable accommodation. As with the federal law, there are exceptions if the reasonable accommodation would cause the employer an undue hardship. Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 151B §4(16).

Under either law, the employer must provide a reasonable accommodation to a qualified individual, but the employee must be able to perform the essential functions of the job with that accommodation. The First Circuit recently reviewed a district court's grant of summary judgment in Tuvell v. International Business Machines, Inc. The plaintiff filed suit against his former employer, alleging violations of the ADA and state discrimination laws. The complaint alleged that the employer did not reasonably accommodate the plaintiff's post-traumatic stress disorder. Additionally, the plaintiff alleged discrimination on the basis of race, gender, and age. The complaint also alleged retaliation, including termination, and failure to properly investigate.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant on all of the claims, finding the plaintiff's medical reports showed he was unable to perform the essential functions of his job with the accommodation. The district court found he was not a qualified disabled individual. Furthermore, the court found that the employer had offered reasonable accommodations, including extended leave and an alternative employee review process.

The district court ultimately found that the plaintiff was unable to perform the essential functions of the position, that the alleged actions were not sufficiently adverse to support a disability discrimination claim, and that the employer had a non-discriminatory reason to terminate him because he had begun work for another software company while on leave. Since it found that there had not been an adverse employment action and that there was a legitimate reason for termination, the court also rejected the retaliation claims. The district court also dismissed the age, race, and gender discrimination claims, finding no factual allegations supporting those claims.

The plaintiff appealed. The First Circuit affirmed with little discussion beyond summarizing the district court's findings. The circuit court found that the lower court had properly considered the plaintiff's arguments and articulated its rejection of them clearly and persuasively. The circuit court noted that the appellate court should not write a long opinion in such cases, in which"the district court got it right."

A plaintiff in a discrimination case must have sufficient evidence of an adverse employment action to support a discrimination claim. Our Massachusetts employment law attorneys are experienced in representing both employees and employers in discrimination cases. If you have an employment discrimination issue, call the Law Offices of Richard Mucci at (781) 729-3999.

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