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Home 9 Federal Legal Corner 9 Cancer as a Disability under ADA

Cancer as a Disability under ADA

A federal district court recently held that cancer, even when in remission, can constitute a disability under the 2009 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Hoffman v. Carefirst of Fort Wayne Inc., No. 1:09-CV-251 (N.D. Ind. August 31, 2010). Stephen Hoffman worked as a service technician for a health care supply company. Hoffman suffered from renal cancer which, following treatment went into remission in 2008. He worked without any health complaints, and without any requests for reasonable accommodation through all of 2008.

In January of 2009, Hoffman’s supervisor told him that he would have to increase his work hours. Hoffman agreed. A few days later, Hoffman’s supervisor told him that he would have to further increase his work hours from 40 hours per week (his usual amount of work prior to January 2009) to 65-70 hours per week, as well as work one night shift per week, and be on call on weekends. Hoffman admitted that his employer also asked other technicians to work the new expanded schedule.

Hoffman told his supervisor that his medical condition would not allow him to work the new schedule, and the next day provided a note from his doctor limiting his work hours to 8 hours per day, five days per week. After speaking with the owners of the company, Hoffman’s supervisor told him he could either submit his resignation or work the longer hours. Hoffman explained that he could not work the new hours, nor would he resign. Hoffman eventually left his job and filed suit alleging a violation of the ADA.

Carefirst filed a motion for summary judgment on Hoffman’s claims, alleging that Hoffman did not qualify as a disabled individual for purposes of the ADA, and that even if he did, Carefirst offered him a reasonable accommodation. Carefirst argued that Congress could not have intended individuals whose cancer is in remission and who can present “no medical evidence of active disease” to qualify as disabled forever. The district court disagreed. It found that the “clear language” of the amendments to the ADA included within the definition of a qualified individual with a disability those whose conditions, when active, would substantially limit a major life activity. Because Hoffman’s cancer would be substantially limiting to at least one major life activity when active, he did not need to show that he was in fact limited in any major life activities at the time Carefirst took the adverse employment action against him. The court also examined the EEOC’s proposed regulations which cite cancer as a condition that falls within the remission provisions of the amendments to the ADA. The court, therefore, found that Hoffman could qualify as disabled under the ADA and that summary judgment was therefore inappropriate.

The court also found that summary judgment was not warranted on Hoffman’s claim that Carefirst failed to provide reasonable accommodation in the form of a 40-hour workweek. The court reasoned that Carefirst had presented no evidence that allowing Hoffman to continue working his usual hours in his usual location would give rise to undue hardship for Carefirst. Hoffman’s claim of denial of reasonable accommodation therefore also survived summary judgment.