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COVID-19 May Qualify as a “Disability” Under the ADA, Says Federal Court

A federal court in Pennsylvania has ruled preliminarily that COVID-19 may be considered a disability under the ADA.  In Matias v. Terrapin House, Inc., an employee reported a positive test result to her employer and was terminated the same day.  The employee sued under the ADA, alleging that the decision to terminate her immediately following her positive test constituted discrimination on account of a perceived disability.  The employer brought a motion to dismiss the claim, arguing that COVID-19 is not a covered disability under the ADA. The court ruled in favor of the employee.

In its ruling, the court cited to recent guidance from the Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services, indicating that certain forms of COVID-19 may be considered a disability under the ADA, particularly “Long COVID.”  The court found it relevant that the employee showed symptoms that are commonly associated with Long COVID, namely the loss of taste and smell.  Because the employer fired her shortly after she disclosed the positive test and these symptoms, the court concluded that the employee sufficiently alleged she was terminated on account of a perceived disability.

The employer had argued that COVID-19 is a transitory and minor impairment, and therefore not covered under the ADA.  The court found these arguments unavailing.  Indeed, the court outlined the drastic impact COVID-19 has had on America, citing overwhelming numbers of hospitalizations and deaths, especially in comparison to the seasonal flu and the H1N1 pandemic.  Thus, because the employer failed to demonstrate that COVID-19 was both a transitory and minor impairment, the employee’s ADA claim was allowed to proceed.

Although this is not a final decision in this case, this preliminary decision shows that an employee who suffers an adverse employment action following a positive COVID-19 test may have an actionable ADA claim.  This is especially true when the employee reports symptoms that are associated with Long COVID.

Contact Babak Bakhtiari or any attorney in our Litigation or Labor/Personnel practice groups.

Source: Matias v. Terrapin House, Inc., 2021 WL 4206759 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 16, 2021)