The Americans with Disabilities Amendment Act was passed during the Bush administration. It became effective in September, 2009. We are just now seeing cases that fall under the ADAAA. One of the bigger changes wrought under the ADAAA concerns "regarded as" disabled claims. Under the old ADA, in some appellate courts a claimant had to not only show he was perceived as disabled, but he would also have to show an actual disability. In some circuits, a worker could be fired for appearing to be impaired – even if he was not. Such was the law in the Fifth Circuit. Other circuits did not require a showing of an actual disability.
Now, the ADAAA has stated clearly that a person who is only "regarded as" disabled and who does not actually need an accommodation is not protected by the ADA. Such a person is not entitled to an accommodation.
The court recognized this change in Ryan v. Columbus Regional Healthcare System, Inc., 2012 WL 1230234 (E.D.N.C. 4/12/12). In this case, the plaintiff only filed a "regarded as" claim. She did not claim to suffer from an impairment for which she needed an accommodation. She suffered a knee injury and had a knee replacement surgery. She admitted the need for accommodation was transitory. An impairment that is not permanent or close to permanent is not protected by the ADA. So, Plaintiff Ryan’s claim was rejected by the court. See decision.
Under the old ADA, the courts engaged in extensive discussion regarding whether an employer truly "regarded" a worker as disabled. The courts imposed a high burden to show that the employer perceived a particular worker as disabled. In some cases, insults like "Del" (short for Deliverance) or "retarded" were found to not show that an employer regraded an employee as impaired mentally. See Roberts v. Dimension Aviation, 319 F.Supp. 2d 985 (S.D. Az. 2004).
But, now, courts looking at "regarded as" claims are not supposed to engage in extensive analysis whether an employee is impaired. Instead, the courts are supposed to focus on whether the employer has provided a reasonable accommodation or has discriminated. See Snyder v. Livingston, 2012 WL 1493863 (N.D. Ind. 4/27/12). The old ADA required that to show "regarded as" claim, a worker had to show an impairment that substantially limited a major life activity. But, now a plaintiff can proceed even if the impairment does not limit or is not perceived to limit a major life activity. Id. See Snyder decision.
So, found the Indiana federal court, references to Ms. Snyder as being "emotionally unstable" and needing help were sufficient to show factual issue that the employer regarded Plaintiff Snyder as mentally impaired. Ms. Snyder did have a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder and apparently suffered some form of depression.