If sitting is a “major life activity” for ADA purposes, what about sitting “for a prolonged period of time?”   Does a back injury which prevents an employee from sitting for a prolonged period of time constitute a disability under the ADA?

In a case out of NYC, Parada v. Banco Industrial de Venezuela, C.A., a plaintiff who worked in a bank in a “sedentary” job (letter of credit work), fell on the sidewalk and suffered lumbarsacral and cervical sprains and severe spinal disc herniation, and was directed by her doctor to avoid “prolonged sitting.”  In fact, she needed to stand after 10 or 15 minutes of sitting.

8719766_sShe found relief with an ergonomic chair which she borrowed from a co-worker for a day, and was able to sit without the need for standing breaks.  She asked the bank many times for such a chair as a “reasonable accommodation.”   She never received the chair and was ultimately fired.

The relevant issue was whether given the EEOC’s listing of “sitting” as a major life activity, does the inability to sit for “prolonged periods” constitute a disability under the ADA.

The federal court of appeals in NY correctly noted that a disability is a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits a major life activity, and that an impairment substantially limits a major life activity if the individual is significantly restricted as to condition, manner or duration under which she can perform the activity.

The Court rejected the lower court’s “mistaken interpretation” of a prior ruling that it had created a “per se” rule that the major life activity is substantially limiting “only if the plaintiff’s impairment precludes him from sitting at all, not if the plaintiff’s impairment merely makes it more difficult to sit.”

The Court concluded that the inability to sit for a prolonged period of time may be disability depending upon the totality of the circumstances.