button Vol. 6
No. 1
Spring 2001


Bush Issues New Directives
line Sex: "Major Life Activity"?
line Internal Investigation Records Ruling
line Unfair Labor Act Judgement
line Romance In The Workplace Revisited
line Collective Bargaining Impasse Issue
line Briefs

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News on Personnel, Labor Relations and Benefits

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button Sex: "Major Life Activity"?

Sexual relations and "Major Life Activities"
reviewed by Courts.

The 7th Circuit Court addressed major life activity of "working" as well as major life activity of "reproduction/engaging in sexual relations."
(January 2001 Contreras v. Suncast case.)

An employee sued his former employer alleging, among other things, failure to reasonably accommodate in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer; the 7th Circuit affirmed. He contended that he was substantially limited in the major life activities of working and "reproduction/engaging in sexual relations."

  1. "Working" claim. The employee claimed that he was unable to lift in excess of 45 pounds for a long period of time, unable to engage in strenuous work, and unable to drive a forklift for more than four hours a day. The court concluded that these limitations were not sufficient to constitute the required "substantial limitation" on the employee's ability to work. Also noted by the court was the fact that "other circuits (4th, 5th, and 8th) faced with similar sets of facts have found those limitations do not qualify as a substantial limitation on working (and thus a disability under the ADA)."
  2. "Sexual reproduction and engaging in sexual relations" claim. The employee claimed that he was only able to have intercourse twice per month. He also claimed that, prior to his purported disability, he had been able to engage in that activity twenty times per month (a claim which the court noted was "unsupported").

In 1998 the United States Supreme Court acknowledged that sexual reproduction is a major life activity in Bragdon v. Abbott, 524 US 624 (1998). The 7th Circuit Court noted that "we recognize it may be argued that the Supreme Court may have implied that engaging in sexual relations is a major life activity." However, the Supreme Court case concluded that an HIV infected woman was substantially limited in her ability to reproduce, focusing on the fact that an infected woman who attempts to reproduce imposes a significant risk to any male she has intercourse with (as well as her child).

Regarding the employee's claim, the 7th Circuit Court stated that "our present situation is readily distinguishable from the Supreme Court case". The court noted that "the Supreme Court's ruling in that matter does not stand for the proposition that a change in frequency in which an individual can engage in intercourse, as the result of a bad back, constitutes an impairment which substantially limits a major life activity. Rather, the Supreme Court based its decision on the undeniable impact that HIV can have on the feasibility of reproduction." Unlike the Supreme Court case, this employee had not shown any significant impact on his ability to reproduce.

The court declined to decide whether engaging in sexual relations is a major life activity, but concluded that even if it were, the employee had provided insufficient proof of a substantial limitation.

Another "major life activity" case:

Louisiana Court declines to recognize "concentration" or "the ability to get along with others" as major life activities.
(Hook v. Georgia-Gulf, Louisiana Ct App 01/12/2001)

An employee in Louisiana sued his former employer alleging disability discrimination under the Louisiana Human Rights Act of 1988 (LHRA).

The court had 3 reasons for declining to recognize the employee claims.

  1. The ability to concentrate is not a major life activity under the LHRA.
  2. The ability to get along with others is not a major life activity under the LHRA, and
  3. Employees who are discharged for emotional outbursts have no claim under the LHRA (regardless, apparently, of whether those outbursts are the result of a disability).

These cases on ADA continue to generate interesting arguments about what is a "major life activity". This is a critical issue for employers who only need to make an accommodation if and when the employee is limited in a "major life activity". The law continues to evolve. Stay tuned! ---

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