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October 11, 2023
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In Stanley v. City of Sanford, Florida, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals stated that a retiree does not constitute a “qualified individual” with a disability, because they do not hold or desire a position, as required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Therefore, the court found that a former employee cannot sue under the ADA for post-employment disability discrimination.
Here, a firefighter for the City of Sanford, Florida was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2016. Two years later she took disability retirement and continued to receive health insurance through the City. At the time she joined the Department, disability retirees received free health insurance until age 65; however, unbeknownst to her, the City changed its policy in 2003, limiting the continuing health insurance subsidy to 24 months after retirement. Just before her two years was up, the former firefighter brought a claim against the City alleging that the decision to change the retiree health insurance subsidy was disability discrimination in violation of the ADA.
The court dismissed the former firefighter’s claim, finding that she was not a “qualified individual with a disability.” The court pointed out that, under the ADA, a “qualified individual is someone who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires. As a retiree, the former employee did not hold or desire an employment position with the City. Because of this, she could not bring a claim for disability discrimination under the ADA.
That said, the court distinguished between post-employment discrimination claims and retaliation claims under the ADA, noting that a retiree may be able to bring a claim against a former employer because it retaliated against the retiree for exercising rights under the ADA. A plaintiff in a retaliation claim does not have to be a “qualified individual with a disability,” they just have to show they exercised rights under the ADA. Here, the plaintiff did not qualify for a retaliation claim because the decision to change the insurance coverage was made in 2003 and her diagnosis occurred in 2016, so therefore, she did not exercise any rights under the ADA prior to the change.
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