ADA Complaint Fails Due to Employee’s SSDI Claim

Call it a case of an employee not having it both ways.  Specifically, an employee could not, on the one hand, seek Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) benefits; claiming she was totally disabled and later file a disability discrimination case against her employer for failing to reasonably accommodate her. 

The case involved an employee who worked for Honeywell and later sought SSDI benefits due to anxiety.  In filing for benefits, she claimed that she was totally disabled as of the last day of employment.  17 months later, the employee filed an ADA charge; claiming her employer failed to accommodate her.

While the former employee tried to contend that the standards for being disabled under SSDI were different than being disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the argument was unpersuasive.  In upholding the lower District Court’s decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit emphasized that to bring an accommodation claim forward, the claimant needed to first point out that they were a qualified individual and that such prerequisite was not established:  “[Pena’s] failure to accommodate claim requires sufficient evidence that she was a ‘qualified individual’….she has not presented such evidence.  Rather, the undisputed evidence…includes admissions at her deposition and in her briefing that she was not a ‘qualified individual’.”

{Pena v. Honeywell)

[Editor’s note:  To bring a successful ADA Accommodation claim, the employee (or former employee) needs to establish that they are a qualified individual; meaning that they could perform the essential functions of their job with or without reasonable accommodation.  By going to great lengths to portray herself as totally disabled in seeking SSDI benefits but failing to provide any other extenuating information that would also show her as being a qualified individual, that is one who could ultimately do the essential functions of her job, her SSDI testimony proved to ultimately bar her from successfully moving forward with her ADA claim.]