Retired firefighter’s disability discrimination case to be heard by Supreme Court

June 27, 2024

Supreme Court to address disability discrimination for retirees

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether retired workers can sue their former employers for disability discrimination after leaving their jobs, as reported by Reuters.

The justices granted a petition from Karyn Stanley, a retired firefighter from Sanford, Florida.

Stanley is appealing a lower court ruling that stated she could not sue the city for allegedly reducing benefits for disabled retirees because she was no longer employed by the city.

The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Stanley, which deepened a split among federal appeals courts over whether retired workers are still “qualified” for their former jobs, a requirement to sue an employer under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Impact of the Supreme Court’s decision

Stanley’s lawyers stated in her December petition that the issue impacts millions of disabled individuals relying on retirement benefits and many more who will become disabled in the future.

“These individuals are unlikely to know about their employer’s discriminatory benefits policies until they become disabled and are forced to retire — the exact moment that they lose their right to sue,” Stanley’s lawyers explained.

Michael Foreman of Penn State Law School’s Civil Rights Appellate Clinic, who authored a brief on behalf of the National Employment Lawyers Association, commented on the case: “The lower court ignored changes in the ADA and other laws which we believe show that employees have a right to challenge disability-based discrimination in benefits earned but not utilized until employment has ended.”

Details of Stanley’s case

Stanley retired after two decades due to Parkinson’s disease, making it impossible for her to continue working.

She sued the city in 2020, claiming discrimination against workers who retired due to a disability by providing a smaller healthcare subsidy compared to employees who retired after 25 years of service.

A Florida federal judge dismissed her case, and the 11th Circuit affirmed the dismissal, stating that a plaintiff must “hold or desire” a job to sue an employer for discrimination under the ADA.

This ruling aligns with the conclusions of the 6th, 7th, and 9th Circuits.

However, the 2nd and 3rd Circuits have interpreted the ADA differently, stating that its scope is unclear and should be decided in favor of the workers the law aims to protect.

The case is Stanley v. City of Sanford, Florida, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 23-997.

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