Key point 8-10. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers with at least 15 employees, and that are engaged in interstate commerce, from discriminating in any employment decision against a qualified individual with a disability who is able, with or without reasonable accommodation from the employer, to perform the essential functions of the job. Accommodations that impose an undue hardship upon an employer are not required. Religious organizations may give preference to nondisabled members of their faith over disabled persons who are members of a different faith.
* A federal appeals court ruled that a church did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act when it terminated an employee who was suffering from lupus because it had legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for terminating her that had nothing to do with her illness. A woman (“Pat”) was employed by a church. She claimed that she was fired because she suffered from lupus. She sued the church in federal court, claiming that its decision to dismiss her amounted to discrimination based on her disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A federal district court dismissed Pat’s lawsuit, and she appealed. A federal appeals court agreed that the case against the church had to be dismissed. The court noted that in order for Pat to prove disability discrimination, she had to prove that she (1) was disabled; (2) was qualified for the position despite the disability; and (3) was subjected to an adverse employment decision because of the disability. The court concluded that Pat was not terminated because of her illness, and so her lawsuit had to be dismissed. It noted, “The evidence showed that for five years prior to her termination, Pat had a multitude of problems performing her job. These problems included numerous failures to clean certain areas of the church, failure to clock in and out, unexplained absences from work, and unauthorized overtime.”
Application. Many churches are subject to state or federal disabilities discrimination laws, as well as other state or federal laws banning various kinds of discrimination in employment. This case illustrates an important point—a church will not be liable for violating a nondiscrimination law when it dismisses an employee who is a member of a “protected class” under such a law so long as it has a legitimate and verifiable “nondiscriminatory” basis for its decision. Edmondson v. West End United Methodist Church, 24 Fed. Appx. 426 (6th Cir. 2001).
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