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Ninth Circuit Rules Teachers are not Entitled to Receive Accommodations Under the Americans with Disabilities Act to Ensure they Can Satisfy Employment Prerequisites

January 13, 2012

A ten year teacher in Idaho with a history of depression and bipolar disorder failed to complete her required six semester hours of professional development training, three of which required to be for college credit, in order to maintain her Idaho teaching certificate. The required semester hours could have been completed at any time during the five years that her teaching certificate was valid, which was from September 1, 2002 to September 1, 2007. In the summer of 2007, still short her required three semester hours of college credit, the teacher experienced a major depressive episode which rendered her unable to take any college courses.

She applied for a provisional authorization to the Idaho State Board of Education (ISBE) which would allow it to approve her renewal notwithstanding her lack of appropriate certification. The Board voted to deny her request. The teacher followed with a challenge of disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The district court ruled that the teacher was not a “qualified individual with a disability” within the meaning of the ADA. A timely appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court followed.

In the ensuing case, Johnson v. Board of Trustees of Boundary County School Dist., the Ninth Circuit found that in order to prevail on her claim, the teacher must show that she is a “qualified individual with a disability” within the meaning of the ADA. In addition she must show that she was “qualified” at the time of the alleged discrimination. The ADA defines “qualified individual” as “an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires.” 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8). The EEOC regulations define “qualified individual” in two parts stating a “qualified individual with a disability” is one “who satisfies the requisite skills, experience, education and other job-related requirements of the employment position such individual holds or desires and who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of such position.” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(m). The Ninth Circuit has adopted the EEOC’s two step definition. Under the first step, known as the qualification inquiry, there is no reference to reasonable accommodation to ensure that individuals can satisfy the job prerequisites, in addition to the essential job functions. The court also found that in the EEOC’s interpretive guidance, the commentary states that “[t]he first step is to determine if the individual satisfies the prerequisites for the position, such as possessing the appropriate educational background, employment experience, skills, licenses, etc.” 29 C.F.R. Pt. 1630, App. to § 1630.2(m). Based on this information, the Court found that an individual who fails to satisfy job prerequisites cannot be considered “qualified” within the meaning of the ADA. However, an individual may challenge whether the prerequisite is itself discriminatory in effect.

Johnson v. Board of Trustees of Boundary County School Dist., No. 101 (C.A.9 (Idaho)), No. 10-35233, Dec. 8, 2011, OSCANNLAIN, J., 2011 WL 6091313

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