Second Circuit Holds That The ADA Does Not Require Employers to Provide Comparable Long Term Disability Benefits for Men
The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided that a long term disability ("LTD") plan which provides less generous benefits to those suffering from mental and emotional disabilities than to those suffering from physical disabilities does not violate Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act. EEOC v. Staten Island Bank and EEOC v. Chase Manhattan Bank (consolidated for appeal), 2000 WL 297510 (2d Cir. March 23, 2000).
One of the two LTD plans at issue on appeal provided LTD benefits to employees with physical disabilities until retirement age, but provided a maximum of 18 months of LTD benefits to those suffering from mental or emotional disabilities. The other plan placed no cap on benefits payable to those with physical disabilities, but imposed a cap of two years on LTD benefits payable to those with mental disabilities. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the employer-sponsors of these LTD plans, contending that the provision of disparate LTD benefit levels for mental and physical disabilities violated the ADA by discriminating against employees who suffer from mental disabilities "because of" their disability.
The Second Circuit disagreed and affirmed the dismissal of the EEOC's complaint in each case. The Court reasoned that the ADA requires only that employers offer the same LTD plan to all employees irrespective of their disability status, not that employers offer identical LTD benefits to those with different disabilities: "So long as every employee is offered the same plan regardless of the employee's contemporary or future disability status, then no discrimination has occurred even if the plan offers different coverage for various disabilities." In other words, the ADA regulates only "equal access" to the LTD plan sponsored by an employer; it does not require that the plan provide equal benefits for different conditions. Thus, because the LTD plans at issue provided all employees (both disabled and non-disabled) with the same degree of protection against the risk of becoming unable to work, the Second Circuit determined that the plans did not violate the ADA. This outcome was consistent with that reached by several other federal appellate courts, including a decision earlier this year by the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, Weyer v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., 198 F.3d 1104 (9th Cir. 2000).