The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled on March 12, 2015 that social anxiety disorder may be a recognized disability under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). The case is titled: Jacobs v. N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts.
Previously, the ADA definition of disability had been construed more narrowly by the courts. However, where the alleged unlawful acts occurred after January 1, 2009, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAAA”) applies. Under the ADAAA, the definition of disability is to be “construed in favor of broad coverage.” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(4)(A).
In the Jacobs case, a terminated employee alleged that her social anxiety disorder limited her ability to interact with others and was therefore a disability. The employer contended that “interacting with others” was not a major life activity. The Court disagreed and concluded that it is reasonable for the EEOC to conclude that interacting with others is a major life activity and, therefore, the employee’s disability was covered by the ADA.
The effect of the “broad coverage” under the ADAAA means that employers defending against disability claims under the ADA will have a far more difficult road defending on the grounds that the employee is not disabled for ADA purposes.
Brian P. Lundgren is a Seattle, Washington based Defense Attorney who focuses his practice on representing Employers, Management, Companies, and Small Businesses in all aspects of labor and employment law.