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Court reinstates charges for fired tutor under ADA

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A federal appeals court has overturned a lower court ruling and reinstated discrimination and retaliation charges under the Americans with Disabilities Act filed by a writing tutor who was fired by her community college after taking a leave.

Christy L. Williams, who was hired by Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Texas, as a writing tutor in 2009 has dealt with attention deficit disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder since childhood and was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and hypothyroidism in 1995, according to Thursday’s ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans in Christy L. Williams v. Tarrant County College District, agent of Tarrant County College.

She was also assaulted in February 2012, which aggravated symptoms of her impairments and triggered anxiety problems, according to the ruling.

In November 2012, when two supervisors told her a faculty member had complained about her, she became agitated, began to cry uncontrollably and took several hours to regain her composure. She was then placed on administrative leave, according to the ruling.

While on leave, her psychiatrist provided the college with disability and Family Medical Leave Act forms stating she had major depressive disorder and anxiety as well as problems eating sleeping and focusing, and that she planned to return to work on Jan. 2, 2013.

When she reported for work, though, she was told to consider herself still on leave, and was terminated for past performance five days later, according to the ruling.

Ms. Williams filed suit in U.S. District Court in Fort Worth on charges including discrimination, failure to accommodate and retaliation under the ADA. The District Court granted the college summary judgment dismissing the case.

A three-judge appeals court panel unanimously reinstated the ADA charges. Ms. Williams meets the standards under the ADA of both having an actual disability and being regarded as disabled by the college, said the panel’s ruling.

“The court’s conclusion that Williams’ ‘self-serving declaration, without medical documentation or support, is not sufficient’ is incorrect,” said the ruling.

The ADA’s 2008 amendments and its implementing regulations “broaden protection for the disabled, in part by clarifying…that showing substantial limitation ‘usually will not require scientific, medical or statistical analysis.’…The court’s requiring medical corroboration at the summary judgment stage was therefore erroneous,” said the ruling.

“The court also erred in suggesting Williams being certified to ‘work aa fully, regularly scheduled day with no restrictions’ undercut her disability claim,” the ruling said.

“An individual’s ability to perform her job does not prevent a finding of disability; her disability may be unrelated to the performance of her job, or perhaps, with reasonable accommodations, she is capable of fulfilling her duties. The court’s statement was therefore contrary to both law and experience,” the ruling said.

Ms. Williams “has provided summary-judgment evidence to create a genuine dispute of material fact for whether she is disabled – under both the actual-disability and regarded-as standards – for purposes of the ADA. Because summary judgment was awarded against Williams for failure to show disability alone, summary judgment was improperly granted,” said the ruling, in remanding the case for further proceedings.