ADA Retaliation Claim Dismissal Vacated; Seeking a Reasonable Accommodation For Bipolar Disorder Was a “Protected Activity”

In Ibela v. Allied Universal, 2022 WL 1418886 (2d Cir. May 5, 2022), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, inter alia, vacated the dismissal of plaintiff’s claim of retaliation asserted under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

After affirming the dismissal of plaintiff’s discrimination claim (on the ground that plaintiff “did not allege any facts showing that his bipolar disorder impacted, let alone substantially limited, a major life activity”), the court turned to plaintiff’s retaliation claim, which was predicated on plaintiff’s seeking a reasonable accommodation for his bipolar disorder.

From the decision:

However, we vacate the District Court’s order of dismissal insofar as Ibela alleged retaliation under the ADA for requesting a reasonable accommodation. The District Court concluded that it could not consider the merits of Ibela’s ADA retaliation claim because he had not established that he suffered from a disability within the meaning of the ADA. But there is no requirement that the plaintiff be disabled in order to be protected from retaliation under the ADA. A “plaintiff need not establish that the conduct he opposed was actually a violation of the statute so long as he can establish that he possessed a good faith, reasonable belief that the underlying challenged actions of the employer violated that law.” Muller v. Costello, 187 F.3d 298, 311 (2d Cir. 1999) (internal quotation marks omitted). As long as a plaintiff has a good faith belief that he was disabled and requested a reasonable accommodation, he can state a claim for ADA retaliation. See Weissman v. Dawn Joy Fashions, Inc., 214 F.3d 224, 234 (2d Cir. 2000) (“[E]ven if Weissman has failed to prove that there was a violation of the ADA, the defendant may still have retaliated against Weissman for engaging in protected conduct.”).

To state an ADA retaliation claim, an employee “must show that he engaged in a protected activity, that he suffered an adverse employment action, and that a causal connection exists between that protected activity and the adverse employment action.” Fox v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 918 F.3d 65, 72–73 (2d Cir. 2019). Seeking a reasonable accommodation constitutes protected activity under the ADA. Weixel v. Bd. of Educ. of N.Y.C., 287 F.3d 138, 149 (2d Cir. 2002). Ibela alleged that Nicholas began denying him work, reducing his hours, and denying him overtime after he requested a reasonable accommodation due to his bipolar disorder. These adverse actions occurred within two months of Ibela’s June 2019 reasonable accommodation request. See Gorman-Bakos v. Cornell Co-Op Extension of Schenectady Cnty., 252 F.3d 545, 554 (2d Cir. 2001) (“[A] plaintiff can indirectly establish a causal connection to support a discrimination or retaliation claim by showing that the protected activity was closely followed in time by the adverse employment action.” (internal quotation marks and alteration omitted)).

Ibela’s amended complaint and opposition brief plausibly allege a reasonable belief on his part that he was engaging in protected conduct, and satisfy the elements of an ADA retaliation claim. Therefore, the District Court erred by refusing to consider the merits of that claim.

Having vacated the dismissal of plaintiff’s federal claim, the court vacated the dismissal of plaintiff’s retaliation claims under the New York State and New York City Human Rights Laws.

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