On January 2, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a lawsuit filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), in which the plaintiff, a medical resident, claimed that his employer, a hospital, violated the ADA by discriminating against him because of his disability, a sleep disorder, failing to provide him with reasonable accommodation for his disability, and retaliating against him for asserting his rights under the ADA. Rodrigo v. Carle Foundation Hospital, et al., No. 16-1403 (7th Cir. 1/2/2018). The plaintiff contended that the hospital allowed another resident in its medical residency program to complete the program without passing the required Step 3 test, which the plaintiff did not pass, and that therefore he could establish a claim for disability discrimination under federal law. He also argued that the hospital denied his accommodation requests that it reinstate him to the program and give him the opportunity to re-take the Step 3. On his ADA retaliation claim, the plaintiff asserted that the hospital’s termination of his residency and refusal to reinstate him were in retaliation for his protected activity of requesting reasonable accommodation. However, the plaintiff’s disability discrimination and failure to accommodate claims failed because he is not a qualified individual with a disability under the ADA. His retaliation claim failed for lack of evidence of any causal connection between any protected activity and adverse job action.
The ADA prohibits covered employers from discriminating against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. The ADA defines the term qualified individual as an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of his or her job. Prohibited discrimination includes, among other things, failure to make a reasonable accommodation for the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability, unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship of the business operations of the employer. The plaintiff’s claims for disability discrimination and failure to accommodate failed at the start because he could not establish that he is a qualified individual. The term qualified means that the individual has the required skill, experience, education and other job-related requirements for the employment position and, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job. Passing an exam required for licensure falls into this category. Passing Step 3 was a legitimate requirement for advancing within and completing the medical residency program. Since the plaintiff failed to do so, he was not a qualified individual under the ADA and, therefore, his ADA discrimination and accommodation claims necessarily failed, as a matter of law. The indisputable evidence demonstrated that passing Step 3 was an essential function.
The ADA’s anti-retaliation provision is not limited to protecting qualified individuals. It protects any individual who engages in protected activity under the ADA. The ADA provides that no person shall discriminate against any individual because the individual has opposed any act or practice made unlawful by the ADA or because the individual made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing. To prevail on an ADA retaliation claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate that he or she engaged in protected activity, that he or she suffered an adverse action, and that there is a causal connection between the two. Protected activity includes asserting ADA rights to request a reasonable accommodation or raise a claim of disability discrimination. In this case, however, the plaintiff presented no evidence demonstrating that there was a causal connection between his protected activity and either his termination or refusal to reinstate him.