Even after all these years, I’m still shocked when I read about employment cases in other jurisdictions and realize how different the result would be if the case had been in California. The latest example is Nyrop v. Independent School Dist. No. 11, a decision issued earlier this month by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeal (and accessible here). Nyrop affirmed a determination by the district court that a Minnesota teacher’s multiple sclerosis didn’t constitute a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The decision turned on the issue of whether Nyrop was substantially limited in a major life activity. Nyrop presented evidence that, because of her MS, she had problems controlling her tongue and larynx which prevented her from speaking clearly and projecting her voice. She also described impairments in terms of feeling and sensation, muscle control, strength, and sensitivity to temperatures above 70 degrees. Despite all this, the court concluded that Nyrop could not pursue a claim under the ADA because she was not substantially limited in any major life activity.
California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act defines “limits” and “life activities” more broadly than federal law. As a result, in California, I’m certain that the plaintiff would have been allowed to proceed with her claim. Does this mean that employers should move their operations to Minnesota? No. First, the winters are brutal. Second, this Brett Favre thing got tiresome two retirements ago. Third, federal law is catching up with California. The Nyrop case arose before enactment of amendments to the ADA. Those amendments, which took effect in 2009, broadened the definition of what constitutes a disability. So while California law is definitely more employee-friendly here, Federal law is heading in that direction.