EEOC v. Lee's Log Cabin, Inc., No. 06-3278, 2009 WL 222960 (7th Cir. Feb. 2, 2009)

Court and Agency Decisions and Orders (including case law)

This full-panel opinion explains its denial of a petition for rehearing of a case decided in October 2008. The federal trial and appellate courts had found for the defendant in a case involving HIV-related employment discrimination, basing its ruling on an erroneous distinction between HIV and AIDS for the purposes of coverage under the ADA. Despite support from several amici curiae, including the ACLU and Lambda Legal, the EEOC was unable to convince the court of appeals to hear the case again. Judge Williams, along with three other judges, dissented from the rehearing denial, explaining that the EEOC’s action on which the majority had originally based its decision should not have had any effect on the outcome of the case.

The district court refused to allow submission of certain evidence related to the plaintiff’s disability because the EEOC had used the term “AIDS” to describe the plaintiff’s condition, when it had previously referred to it as “HIV.” The court then determined that the change in terminology from “HIV” to “AIDS” amounted to a shift in factual basis for the claim and was raised too late in the process. The court then found for the defendant and the ruling was upheld by the Seventh Circuit.

In her dissent from the rehearing denial, Judge Williams argues that the court’s “treatment of this case raises serious questions about our approach to ADA cases involving complex disabilities,” and thus merits a rehearing. By upholding the District Court decision, the court effectively imposed a higher standard for “litigants with multi-stage disabilities,” and created a “specific knowledge” requirement for employers, who must now understand the precise extent of an employee’s disability in order to be guilty of an ADA violation. Because these added requirements pose an often insurmountable barrier for plaintiffs, Judge Williams argues that rehearing is necessary.