In 2008, the ADA was amended by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). The corresponding EEOC regulations, effective in March 2011, expanded the coverage of the “regarded as” standard for determining whether an employee is considered disabled. The ADA covers individuals with a disability; those with a record of a disability; those who are perceived to have a disability; and those associated with someone with a disability. An individual may demonstrate he or she is disabled by establishing a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, a record of such an impairment, or being “regarded as” having such an impairment even though the person does not have an impairment.
An employee’s mental state cannot always be explored in a lawsuit merely because the employee files a claim against the employer under the ADA. In Kronenberg v. Baker & McKenzie LLP, a law firm associate in Chicago brought suit against the firm after his employment was terminated upon his return from FMLA leave taken for a chronic degenerative spinal disc disorder. The employee alleged his repeated requests for a reasonable accommodation were ignored by the law firm, that he was unlawfully discharged, and that he was retaliated against in violation of the ADA. In his complaint, the former associate alleged the firm deprived him of equal opportunities by failing to accommodate his disability and sought reinstatement with appropriate accommodations, back pay, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees and costs.