Under Title I of the ADA the Source of the Impairment is Not Relevant

Source of Impairment NOT relevantOne of the little known or often misunderstood facts about Title I of the amended Americans with Disabilities Act is that the origin or source of impairment that leads to a qualifying disability is irrelevant: it does not matter if the impairment arose from an accident at work, an accident of birth, or a leisure time activity. A disability resulting from an impairment related to a workers’ compensation injury is no more or less in need of careful management under Title I then is an accident of birth.

Examples of this principle come from the cases of two women. The first was born with a deformed left arm, the limb ending a few inches below the elbow. Kelly A. Gillen was a very determined individual who sought employment as an emergency medical technician (EMT) with Fallon Ambulance Service and who was later evaluated by physicians at Milton Hospital. Her story is the focal point of Kelly A. Gillen v Fallon Ambulance Service, Inc.

The second took medical leave to undergo surgery for work-related and non-work-related injuries to her knees. Kris Indergard sought to return to her job in a Consumer Napkin Operator position, or the next available position of Napkin Adjuster, at the Georgia-Pacific Wauna Mill in Oregon. In that process she was examined by work evaluation specialists from Columbia Rehabilitation. Her story is told in Indergard v Georgia-Pacific Corporation.

There are many lessons found in the reading of these two cases. Errors were made by two physicians in one case and by two work evaluators in the other case. In each case the federal court noted the absence or inadequacy of job demands data upon which the adverse employment decision was made. And, finally, each case featured the lack of a properly designed employment examination (one was an employment entrance examination, the other a return-to-work medical examination) that assessed the employee’s ability to safely execute the physical demands tied to the essential functions of the job.

For the purposes of this blog post these cases confirm the irrelevance of the source of impairment that lead to a qualifying disability that, in turn, triggered coverage under Title I of the ADA. If you have influence in your company’s disability and absence management system, share the lessons learned here with each of your colleagues.

Free Monthly Webinars

Roy Matheson



  1. …and if the impairment-data is not so helpful, the helpfulness of the document-creator isn’t either, ie., the physician generated impairment opinion is only the starting point on the road to occupational disability substantiation.

  2. Hi, Eric! Thanks for posting your comment. That’s correct: when a physician issues an impairment rating the employer does not have useful information about the affect of the impairment on the ability of the individual to do his job; there is no link between an AMA impairment rating and the demands of the essential functions of the job.

    The next step for the employer or case manager is to gain some understanding of the meaning of the rating in terms of restrictions the physician has opined. With that information in hand the employer or case manager can begin the process of comparing the restriction to the demands of the essential function. In some cases an objective assessment of the match or mismatch of the worker’s ability to the demands of the essential functions may be at hand. For a discussion of this process see Paul James v Goodyear Tire and Rubber (www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/09a0766n-06.pdf)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *