North Carolina Law Review

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Chasing Causation: The Fourth Circuit's Americans with Disabilities Act Decision and Proper Causation Standards

September 27, 2017

95 N.C. L. REV. 1784 (2017) 

 

Since the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the “ADA”) twenty years ago, the question of what causation standard is required for discrimination claims has created disagreement among lower courts. Some courts require that a “motivating factor” standard must be met, meaning a plaintiff need demonstrate only that prohibited discrimination contributed to the employer’s decision. Other courts employ a “but-for” causation standard, which necessitates a showing that but for a plaintiff’s disability she would not have been fired. Recently, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals became the first circuit to analyze which standard must be adopted under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008, which prohibits discrimination “on the basis of” disability.

 

In Gentry v. East West Partners Management Co., the Fourth Circuit held that the ADA mandated application of the more stringent “but-for” causation standard, meaning a plaintiff must prove that but for her disability, the employer would not have taken adverse employment action against her. The court reasoned that Supreme Court precedent, prior decisions by other circuit courts, and the legislative history of the ADA all support the conclusion that the “on the basis of” language suggests a “but-for” causation requirement.

 

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