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The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 eliminates any requirement for a regarded-as claim that an impairment substantially limit a major life activity. 42 U.S.C.S. § 12102(3) provides that an individual meets the requirement of "being regarded as having such an impairment" if the individual establishes that he or she has been subject to an action prohibited under this chapter because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity. 29 C.F.R. § 1630 app. at 380 (2009) provides that any individual who has been discriminated against because of an impairment should be bringing a claim under the third prong of the definition which will require no showing with regard to the severity of his or her impairment. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(g)(3) provides that a regarded-as claim does not require a showing of an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. Instead, a plaintiff needs only to show that the defendant took a prohibited action against him because of an actual or perceived impairment. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(l)(2).
Carlos Alexander has suffered from alcoholism since approximately 1980. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ("Authority") hired him in 1999 as an Automatic Train Control Mechanic Helper. In 2007, he transferred to a Communications Mechanic Helper position. In April 2007, Alexander's supervisor smelled alcohol on his breath. A breathalyzer test came up positive for alcohol. Shortly thereafter, Alexander was suspended and referred to the Authority's Employee Assistance Program. Alexander returned to work in December 2007, subject to periodic alcohol tests. In January 2009, Alexander proved unable to comply with the Authority's internal Employee Assistance Program as he again tested positive for alcohol while at work. As a result, he was terminated. During the exit interview, Alexander was told that he could apply to be rehired in one year if he completed an intensive alcohol dependency treatment program. Accordingly, Alexander enrolled in the Chemical Dependency Intensive Outpatient Program at Washington Hospital Center, completing it in January 2010. He then sought to be rehired by the Authority on several occasions, three of which are the subject of his complaint. In April 2010, Alexander applied for a Communications Mechanic Helper position and received a contingent offer of employment, but was later notified that "screening/Physical ha[d] disqualified [him]." Alexander submitted a second application for a Communications Mechanic Helper position in August 2011, but was informed a few days later that he had again been disqualified. Two months later, Alexander applied for an Automatic Fare Collections Mechanic Helper position, but was not hired. On September 13, 2010, after the Authority's first refusal to rehire him, but before the second and third decisions, Alexander filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") claiming that the Authority had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") by not rehiring him because of his history of alcoholism. The Authority denied the allegation and claimed Alexander was not hired because he had falsified information on his medical form and failed to produce documentation of his completed alcohol dependency treatment program. On March 28, 2012, the EEOC issued a Letter of Determination finding reasonable cause to believe that the Authority's decision not to hire Alexander violated the ADA because evidence indicated that Alexander "is a qualified individual with a disability" who had not falsified his medical form and who had adequately documented his completion of a treatment program. J.A. 261-262. When conciliation failed, the EEOC issued Alexander a "right to sue" letter on September 7, 2012. Alexander filed his complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging violations of the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA, although Alexander later dismissed his ADA claim. The district court subsequently granted summary judgment for the Authority on the ground that Alexander failed to come forward with sufficient evidence that he had a "disability" as defined in the Act.
Was it necessary for Alexander’s alcoholism to have substantially limited a major life activity in order to establish a regarded-as claim?
The court held that the district court failed to consider whether Alexander met the ADA's record-of-impairment or regarded-as-impaired definitions of disability. In order to establish a regarded-as claim, it was not necessary for Alexander’s alcoholism to have substantially limited a major life activity. The district court also enforced too strict a definition of the "substantially limits" showing required for actual-disability and record-of-impairment claims. There was sufficient evidence to find that Alexander’s alcoholism substantially limited major life activities compared to most people in the general population. The Rehabilitation Act claim was timely even if the one-year limitations period under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act applied, as the Act's tolling provision also applied.