An employee’s inability to sit for a prolonged period may be a disability under the ADA, according to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Parada v. Banco Industrial de Venezuela, C.A., et al (2nd Cir, March 25, 2014). Reversing a grant of summary judgment to the employer, the Court said that a categorical determination that an inability to sit for a period of time cannot be a disability is unwarranted.
Soon after starting her employment, the plaintiff, who had a largely sedentary job, fell and hurt her back severely enough that she could no longer sit for prolonged periods. Her medical reports stated that she could only sit for 10 or 15 minutes at a time. As a result, she stood for parts of the workday and iced her neck and back. She requested an ergonomic chair a number of times. Having not received any response to her request, she went on leave. Five months later, more than a month after her application for long term benefits was denied, the company terminated her employment. The plaintiff sued, claiming her employer had violated the ADA by ignoring her requests for a reasonable accommodation of her back injury and by terminating her employment.
The court noted that some district courts had mistakenly interpreted its holding in Colwell v.Suffolk County Police Department (2nd Cir 1998) to mean that the major life activity of sitting is substantially limiting only, as one court said, “if the plaintiff’s impairment precludes him from sitting at all, not if the plaintiff’s impairment merely makes it more difficult to sit.” Such a “categorical rule” would conflict with the ADA injunction to do a fact-specific inquiry to determine whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity, the court said.