The Sixth Circuit weighed in on an issue that has split the federal courts and has joined the Seventh and Ninth Circuits in holding that disabled former employees lack standing to sue under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act. McKnight v. Gen. Motors Corp., No. 07-1479 (6th Cir., Dec. 4, 2008). The Court found that three General Motors Corp. retirees lacked standing under the ADA to challenge the reduction of their pension benefits when they started receiving Social Security disability benefits.
According to the court, the former employees are not covered by Title I because they are not “qualified individuals” under the ADA. The Court pointed to the statute’s use of present-tense verbs in the definition of “qualified individual,” including “can perform,” “holds,” and “desires,” and held that “Title I is unambiguous; by its plain language, it does not apply to former employees who are unable to perform the essential functions of their jobs.” Finally, the Court agreed with the Ninth Circuit that ERISA, “which seeks to police . . . fringe benefit abuses” partially fills any resulting gap.
In contrast, the Second and Third Circuits have held that former employees who are totally disabled can be considered “qualified individuals” with standing to file suit under Title I. Unlike the Sixth, Seventh and Ninth Circuits, the Second and Third Circuits found that Title I is ambiguous with respect to the definition of a “qualified individual with a disability” and therefore concluded that a broader interpretation, including disabled former employees, was consistent with the purposes of the statute.
In light of this conflict among the federal appellate courts, it would not be surprising if the Supreme Court grants certiorari to hear any appeal that may be filed.