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Employer’s Honest Belief Overcomes Possible Disability Discrimination

After suffering a workplace injury at Ford Motor Company, Gianni-Paolo Ferrari required "permanent" job restrictions for the next nine years. He was accommodated. When Mr. Ferrari's doctor removed the restrictions, Ford’s doctor kept them because Mr. Ferrari had an addiction to opioid painkillers. 

Mr. Ferrari decided to apply for an apprenticeship. He provided two doctor's clearances; one clearance did not mention opioids, while the other indicated that he was still taking them. Mr. Ferarri had told the company that he had been weaning himself off. His doctor provided a note that said his opioid use would not impact his ability to perform the duties of the apprenticeship. However, as Mr. Ferrari's records showed that he had been on opioids within the last three months, an independent medical examiner would not authorize unrestricted employment. Mr. Ferrari was thus not permitted to climb ladders or engage in overhead work. As a consequence, the apprenticeship was not given to Mr. Ferarri. He was told that when he weaned off of the opioids, he could try again. Mr. Ferarri was not fired but given a different position.

Alleging disability discrimination based on Ford "regarding" him as disabled by opioids, Mr. Ferrari filed a lawsuit. For Mr. Ferrari to prevail on this claim, he had to show that Ford viewed him as limited in his ability to perform a "major life activity" as defined by the ADA. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the inability to perform one particular position i.e., the apprenticeship, was not a "major life" activity. The fact that he could not work at heights or climb ladder was insufficient to show that Ford regarded him as disabled There was also insufficient evidence to show general disability discrimination as Ford had a genuine belief in his medical restrictions.