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Sole Cause v. A Motivating Factor Causation

Susan Lewis v. Humboldt Acquisition Corporation (6th Cir. March 17, 2011). Plaintiff appealed a jury verdict against her on her disability discrimination case. Following a jury trial, the jury concluded that plaintiff was "regarded as" disabled and she was a "qualified individual" under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The jury, however, concluded that plaintiff's disability was not the "sole" reason for her termination from employment, and granted its verdict in favor of her employer. On appeal, Ms. Lewis argued that the trial court erroneously instructed the jury that she must prove that her disability was the "sole factor" resulting in her discharge, instead of a "motivating factor" as the majority of appellate courts within the United States.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected plaintiff's appeal because the circuit previously held in Monette v. Elec. Data Sys. Corp., 90 F.3d 1173, 1178 (6th Cir. 1996) that, to recover on a claim for discrimination under the ADA, a plaintiff must show that he was discharged solely by reason of his handicap. Under the law of the case doctrine, the panel stated that its hands were tied and that it could not overrule Monette without intervention from the United States Supreme Court or an en banc ruling from the Sixth Circuit.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Griffin observed that the panel was bound by its previous panel decision in Monette. However, Judge Griffin noted that Monette was improperly decided because the panel in that decision applied its interpretation of the Rehabilitation Act that a plaintiff must prove the disability was the "sole" reason for the employment action. The concurring opinion stated that the supermajority of other circuits have held that the plain language of the ADA did not support application of the Rehabilitation Act's "sole reason" standard, and if he were allowed, would hold that this standard was contrary to the plain language of the ADA.

By: Merl H. Wayman

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