High Court: Plaintiffs In Maine Employment Suits Need Not Prove
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
April 14, 2006
PORTLAND, MAINE--In what is being called an important case for disability rights in Maine, the state's Supreme Court has ruled that a worker can sue an employer for discrimination without having to prove the disability substantially limits a major life activity.
The case decided Tuesday involved Stanley Whitney, 69, who was demoted from his job as manager of the tire-lube department of a Wal-Mart store. Whitney claimed that he had been working an average of 70 hours a week on the job, and asked to have his hours cut back to no more than 45 hours a week after he began experiencing health problems.
Instead of accommodating his request, Whitney's bosses removed him from the position, saying his saying his high blood pressure and "possibly serious" heart disease limited his ability to work the necessary 48 to 52 hours a week.
Whitney tried to sue to get back his high-paying job and for monetary damages. Wal-Mart argued that the case should be dismissed because Whitney's medical condition did not present a "substantial limitation on a major life activity" -- proof of which is required under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
A federal court asked the state Supreme Court to decide whether Whitney had to show how his disability limited his activities under the ADA or under the Maine Human Rights Act.
In writing for the majority, Justice Donald Alexander explained that Maine employment cases should be governed by state law, which does not require claimants to prove the level of their limitations.
In the past several years, the U.S. Supreme Court and lower appeals courts have ruled against plaintiffs in disability discrimination cases when they have not been able to show that their disabilities substantially limit their daily lives.
"This changes the landscape. It's a pretty earth-shaking decision," David Webbert, the lawyer who represented Maine's AFL-CIO arguing on Whitney's behalf, told the Associated Press. "The federal law had been so gutted that the state law is incredibly important in giving people with disabilities in Maine a chance for justice."
"Mainer can sue chain for job bias" (Press-Herald)
"Disability gains broad definition" (Associated Press via Portsmouth Herald)