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Temporary Impairments When Sufficiently Severe Can Be Covered Under the Americans with Disabilities Act

In Summers v. Altarum, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) and its implementing regulations, an impairment is not categorically excluded from being a disability simply because it is temporary (six months or less). Impairments lasting or expected to last six months or less may be covered under the ADAAA when the impairments are sufficiently severe. What does sufficiently severe mean? The appendix to the EEOC's regulations answers this question with the following illustration:

If an individual has a back impairment that results in a 20-pound lifting restriction that lasts for several months, he is substantially limited in the major life activity of lifting, and therefore covered under the first prong of the definition of disability. The first prong of the definition of disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (the "actual-disability" prong).

The significance of the Summers decision cannot be emphasized enough. In the past, far too many employees would be found by courts to satisfy the definition of disability because the disability did not last long enough. Now with the Summers decision correctly interpreting the ADAAA and its implementing regulations, employees stricken with severe but temporary impairments will be legally protected from disability discrimination.

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