Thursday, March 31, 2016

Roberts v. City of Chicago: Discrimination Based on the Consequences of a Disability

The Seventh Circuit's decision in Roberts v. City of Chicago, No. 15-1963 (Mar. 31, 2016), provides an interesting analysis of causation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In Roberts, the appeals court affirmed the dismissal of ADA claims brought by two African American men who alleged that they were not hired for firefighter positions because of their disabilities. In the court's view, the plaintiffs did not allege that they were not hired "because of their disabilities, but rather due to the extensive medical requests that were a consequence of their disabilities."

As noted by the court:
In their complaint, plaintiffs claim that the City discriminated against them by subjecting them to a battery of medical tests and record requests that prevented them from being hired. They allege that these tests and requests were caused by plaintiffs' disabilities and that the resulting delay in obtaining medical clearance sounded the death knell of their employment prospects.
In rejecting the plaintiffs' claim, the court explained that the plaintiffs were required to "show that they were not hired because of their disabilities, not because of a delay in medical clearance, even if that delay was caused by their disabilities." Although the plaintiffs perhaps could have argued that the medical requests were a pretext for intentional discrimination based on disability, they did not do so.

The court further noted that the substance of the plaintiffs' allegations resembled a disparate impact claim. "Essentially, plaintiffs alleged that the City forced them to undergo medical screenings that imposed a greater burden on disabled applicants than non-disabled applicants." However, the court concluded that the plaintiffs failed to state a plausible disparate impact claim because they alleged that the City discriminated against them in particular and not against disabled applicants generally. Moreover, the court noted, the complaint did not present evidence of a statistical disparity between disabled and non-disabled applicants.

This blog reflects the views solely of its author. It is not intended, and should not be regarded, as legal advice on how to analyze any particular set of facts.