A plaintiff’s declarations that her medical impairment led to her limitations were insufficient to defeat her employer’s summary judgment motion because she failed to provide “proper evidence that any limitation she many have is caused by” her medical impairment, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled (emphasis in original). Felkins v. City of Lakewood (10th Cir, December 19, 2014). Expert testimony to establish causation was required, the court said.
In her opposition to her employer’s motion, the plaintiff stated that she had avascular necrosis, which, she said, substantially impaired her major bodily functions of normal cell growth and normal blood circulation and also substantially affected her ability to lift, walk, and stand. “Clearly, her avascular necrosis was an ADA disability,” she argued.
In affirming summary judgment for the employer, the court held that expert testimony was needed to establish that the plaintiff had the medical condition she alleged and that it substantially limited at least one of the major life activities she had identified. Her own declaration–lay evidence–was inadmissible in court and insufficient to defeat her employer’s motion for summary judgment, the court said.
The court also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the ADA Amendments Act relieved her of producing expert evidence because of Congress’ intent that “…the question of whether an individual’s impairment is a disability under the ADA should not demand extensive analysis.” The court held that this statement did not relieve her of producing evidence that any limitation she had was caused by her medical impairment.
This case is a reminder to employers defending ADA cases that despite the broadening of the definition of “disability” by the ADAAA, that amendment did not give a plaintiff a free pass on meeting the evidentiary burden to establish both the impairment and that the limitation(s) are caused by it.