Limping for a while? Does that mean you are “disabled”?

Mr. Weems went under the knife to get a torn meniscus repaired.  He missed only two days of work due to this minor surgery. When he came back to work as a teacher, he used a scooter for a while, and then a walking cane.  Eventually, the district nonrenewed Mr. Weems’s contract due to a program change. The district would no longer offer speech as a separate offering at the middle school. Instead, the language arts teachers would incorporate aspects of speech into their lesson plans.

Mr. Weems did not challenge the nonrenewal, but afterwards he filed suit, claiming that he was the victim of disability and age discrimination. He also alleged that the district retaliated against him due to his participation in the NAACP and AFT-Alliance.  Today we are going to tell you about the disability claim.

As far as disability discrimination, Mr. Weems relied on the broadened concept of “disability” that was enacted into law in 2009. Congress wanted the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) to cover more people.  In particular, Congress instructed the courts not to be so stingy in examining whether or not a person has a “disability.”

However, the ADA still requires proof that the person’s physical or mental impairment “substantially” limits them. This case illustrates that “substantially” is still an important component of the definition.  The court held that the evidence was so clear about this issue here that no reasonable jury could ever conclude that Mr. Weems was “substantially” limited.

But he had surgery!  His doctor ordered some limitations in the workplace.  What about that motorized scooter?  And the walking cane!! Doesn’t all of that demonstrate that the man had a “disability”?

The court said no:

Plaintiff presents no evidence that his knee injury substantially limited his ability to work, walk, stand, or perform any other major life activity as compared to most people in the general population. (Emphasis in the original).

Nor was Mr. Weems successful in arguing that the district “regarded” him as disabled.  Mr. Weems based this on the principal’s innocent inquiry to the teacher: “What’s the matter with your knee?”  The court noted that the principal “knew that Weems had surgery and that he had some limitations physically, which is a far cry from saying that Weems was disabled under the [Americans with Disabilities] Act.”

The court granted summary judgment to the district on this one.  The case is Weems v. Dallas ISD, decided by the federal court for the Northern District of Texas on May 26, 2017. We found it at 2017 WL 2306526.


Tomorrow: Warning signs that you may have the wrong lawyer….