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Retail Store Wins Disability Bias Suit

A Coach retail store that did not hire plaintiff for a part-time job after she discussed limits on her ability to stand and walk for long periods of time due to her condition of Graves’ disease wins summary judgment in plaintiff’s suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act filed in Charlottesville U.S. District Court.

Plaintiff asserts two specific claims for relief: that Coach failed to adhere to the ADA’s limitations on pre-employment medical inquiries; and that Coach discriminated against her as a job applicant on the basis of her disability. The court has considered each claim and finds that neither survives summary judgment.

As to plaintiff’s first claim, the court agrees with employer that plaintiff has failed to forecast any evidence suggesting she suffered injury as a result of questions by the store manager who interviewed her. Even assuming plaintiff has established that she was still being considered for employment at the time of the manager’s phone call and that the manager’s questions violated the ADA, plaintiff also must demonstrate that she suffered an actual injury as a result of those illegal questions. In this case, plaintiff maintains she is not seeking to recover for any economic loss suffered as a result of Coach’s decision not to hire her. She argues, however, that the emotional distress she experienced as a result of the manager’s question constitutes a cognizable injury.

The court believes a plaintiff may establish an actionable ADA claim arising out of the application process even in the absence of a claim of failure to hire. It is unclear, however, whether emotional injury alone is sufficient to maintain a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 12112(d). Some courts suggest that any actual damage (emotional, pecuniary or otherwise) that a plaintiff suffers as the result of an illegal inquiry may be enough to maintain a § 12112(d) claim. Other courts suggest that an impermissible inquiry claim brought under § 12112(d), like a disability discrimination claim brought under § 12112(a), requires evidence of an adverse employment action. The 4th Circuit has not addressed this issue.

Ultimately, this court need not address it either, because it is beyond dispute that an emotional injury requires more than mere allegations of mental/emotional distress, mental anguish, stress and inconvenience. Plaintiff has produced no evidence from her deposition, affidavit or elsewhere, suggesting that she actually experienced such harms, much less that those harms were proximately caused by Coach’s statutory violation. The court will thus grant summary judgment on this claim.

The court agrees with Coach that plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination because she has not shown any adverse employment action based on her disability. Coach has produced evidence suggesting it considered plaintiff a viable applicant for future employment, both before and after it learned the extent of her disability. Plaintiff was interviewed to explore whether she would qualify for seasonal employment, which would not require the same availability and experience as the part-time job. Plaintiff has offered no evidence suggesting Coach removed her from consideration for future employment after learning she was disabled or after discovering the extent of her disability.

Summary judgment for defendant.

Whindleton v. Coach Inc. (Conrad) No. 3:13cv55, Jan. 30, 2015; USDC at Charlottesville, Va. VLW 015-3-038, 10 pp.

VLW 015-3-038

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