Disability Discrimination Claim Dismissed; Tinnitus, Hypertension Not “Disabilities”; Medical Conditions Not “But For Cause” of Adverse Actions

In Langella v. Mahopac Central School District, 2020 WL 2836760 (SDNY May 31, 2020), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s disability discrimination claim asserted under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Among other things, this decision is instructive as to how courts apply the (relatively recently established/confirmed) “but for” causation standard under the ADA.

Plaintiff asserted that he suffered from two medical issues: (1) hearing impairment (deafness in his right ear) and tinnitus, and (2) hypertension and heart disease.

Initially, the court held that plaintiff failed to plausibly allege that either condition constitutes a “disability” under the ADA, since he did “not allege how, if at all, his hypertension or heart disease impacts a major life activity, let alone that either significantly restricts it.”

The court continued:

Even if he had alleged a disability under the ADA, Plaintiff has also failed to plausibly allege discriminatory intent. As the Second Circuit has explained, “the ADA requires a plaintiff alleging a claim of employment discrimination to prove that discrimination was the but-for cause of any adverse employment action.” Natofsky v. City of New York, 921 F.3d 337, 348 (2d Cir. 2019); O’Hara, 2020 WL 1244474 at *11 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 16, 2020) (explaining that, in order to survive a motion to dismiss, “Plaintiff must establish not only the presence of discriminatory motive, but that this motive was a ‘but-for’ cause of the adverse action”). Claims under the RA are subject to the same causation standard. Natofsky, 921 F.3d at 346.

Here, the “but-for” connection between Defendants’ employment decisions and Plaintiff’s disabilities is clearly lacking. As an initial matter, Plaintiff has not alleged any facts that indicate that his hypertension and heart problems were even vaguely considered by Defendants in their hiring and disciplinary practices. And Plaintiff’s claims related to his hearing impairment fair no better. The only allegations Plaintiff proffers are the remarks that Plaintiff had a “loud voice.” But, similar to the issue with the age-related comments, these comments were made over a year before the re-hiring and disciplinary decisions at issue and in a different context. Consequently, these “stray remarks” lack a plausible nexus to Defendants’ purported discriminatory conduct. See Luka, 263 F. Supp. 3d at 487 (explaining that remarks about age that were neither “made close in time nor in relation to the specific employment decision” did not raise an inference of discrimination).

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