7th Circuit: Medical Testimony Not Needed to Establish Substantial Limitation in a Major Life Activity Under the ADA

The Seventh Circuit has held that a plaintiff need not present medical testimony to raise a triable issue that he is substantially limited in a major life activity and therefore entitled to reasonable accommodation under the ADA. (EEOC v. AutoZone Inc., 7th Cir., No. 10-1353, 12/30/10).

From 1999 until 2004, John Shepherd worked as a parts sales manager at AutoZone, a vehicle services company, in Macomb, Illinois. In 2005, AutoZone terminated Shepherd's employment after keeping him on medical leave involuntarily for over a year. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed this suit on Shepherd's behalf under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213. The EEOC alleged that AutoZone violated the ADA in three ways: first, by failing to accommodate Shepherd's physical limitations from March 2003 until September 2003; second, by discriminatorily denying Shepherd the opportunity to work after September 2003; and third, by terminating him in retaliation for filing charges against the company. The district court granted summary judgment for AutoZone on the first claim, finding that the EEOC had not shown that Shepherd had a disability within the meaning of the ADA as is required to demonstrate a failure to accommodate. A jury later ruled in favor of AutoZone on the discriminatory treatment and retaliation claims.

On appeal, the employer argued that EEOC's failure to offer medical testimony regarding plaintiff’s alleged limitations precluded a finding that he was “substantially limited” under the ADA, as it was interpreted prior to the ADA Amendments Act. But the court said no language in the ADA, EEOC's implementing regulations, or relevant case law requires plaintiffs to produce such medical testimony. “Instead, the ADA requires those claiming the act's protection to prove a disability by offering evidence that the extent of the limitation caused by their impairment in terms of their own experience is substantial,” the court said, citing Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184 (2002). “That is exactly what the EEOC showed here through [plaintiff’s] testimony, corroborated by [his wife's] testimony.”