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Employee Moves Forward on COVID Based Termination Case

Ninoshka Matias worked for Terrapin for just three months as a Direct Support Professional. On November 22, 2020, she told Terrapin that she tested positive for COVID and would need leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Terrapin responded by firing her because she was “not a good fit.” She sued Terrapin for violating the FFRCA and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), asserting Terrapin perceiving her as disabled.

The Pennsylvania federal district court denied Terrapin’s motion to dismiss her case. Within the ADA’s definition of a disability, the statute includes protection for individuals who are “regarded as” having an impairment. Under this standard, Matias must show Terrapin fired her because of its belief that she was physically or mentally impaired. Whether the perceived impairment limited a major life activity was not relevant, according to the court. However, the ADA does not protect against perceived impairments that are “transitory and minor.” [Emphasis added] The courts have defined transitory as six months or less. Terrapin argued it did not believe Matias suffered from a disability and, in any case, her illness was transitory and minor. When Matias notified Terrapin that she had COVID, the company asked about her symptoms. Martias said she was losing her sense of taste and smell. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services previously issued guidance stating that “long COVID” may be a disability and identified loss of taste or smell as symptoms. According to the court, the timing of Matias’s termination “raises a strong inference that Terrapin regarding her as disabled.” Terrapin failed to show that COVID is minor. The court evaluated health outcomes from the seasonal flu and COVID. After finding COVID to be significantly more deadly, the court stated, “viewed objectively, COVID-19 is not ‘minor’ as the term is contemplated” in the ADA.