South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Employer Liable for Dismissal of Employee Regarded as Having Disability

Appeals court held that a jury could find that an employer dismissed an employee with hepatitis because the employer regarded the employee as disabled and the jury can determine if punitive damages for malicious action by the employer are justified.


Employment Discrimination

Key Words

Disability; Regarded As Having Disability, Hepatitis; Punitive Damages

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

In 2000, Edwards was diagnosed with hepatitis C, a virus transmitted by blood-to-blood contact. The disease is chronic and requires lifetime monitoring. In 2001, she applied for a job in the kitchen at a nursing home. On the application she checked that she was not under a doctor's care, despite the on-going supervision of hepatitis. Later, when she cut herself at work, her sister, who also worked at the nursing home, told the supervisor that Edwards had hepatitis. She was fired. Her doctor said it would be safe for her to work there, but the nursing home would not reinstate her because she lied on her application. She sued for disability discrimination. The EEOC brought suit on her behalf, contending that she was fired because she was regarded as having a disability. A jury awarded her $20,000 compensatory damages and recommended back pay of $30,000, but the trial judge changed that to $1,240. The trial court held that punitive damages would not be appropriate. The EEOC and the nursing home appealed.


Reversed in part. For an employee to prevail on a "regarded as" claim of disability, there must be evidence that the employer believed the employee to be significantly restricted as to a class of jobs. It was for the jury to determine if the nursing home regarded Edwards to be disabled with respect to being a cook. If she were discriminated against because she was regarded as having a disability, it is for the jury to determine if the employer acted with malice and, so, punitive damages could be awarded.


EEOC v. Heartway Corp., 466 F.3d 1156 (10th Cir., 2006)

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