Employment-Sixth Circuit Rules That Plaintiff Raises A Genuine Issue As To Whether A Deaf Individual Is Qualified To Be A Lifeguard for ADA Purposes

In Keith v. County of Oakland, No. 11-2276 (6th Circuit 2013), plaintiff, Nicholas Keith (“Keith”), a deaf individual, filed suit alleging that defendant Oakland County had discriminated against him on the basis of disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), when it failed to hire him as a lifeguard. The district court granted Oakland County’s motion for summary judgment, and Keith appeals.

In this case, Keith has been deaf since his birth in 1980. After completing courses and obtaining his lifeguard certification, Keith applied for a lifeguard position at Oakland County’s wave pool. He was offered a position as lifeguard, subject to his passing a medical exam. The doctor would not unconditionally pass Keith because he was deaf, and the offer of the lifeguard position was revoked by Oakland County. This suit ensued.

In analyzing the case, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) said that, to establish that an ADA violation has occurred, a plaintiff must show (among other things) that he is qualified for the sought-after position, either with or without reasonable accommodation. To be so qualified, the plaintiff must be able to perform the position’s essential functions, even if reasonable accommodation is required. With regard to the lifeguard position-which involves supervising water activities and lifesaving- Keith has presented evidence, including expert testimony, from which a jury could reasonably find that he can communicate effectively despite his deafness, and that he can otherwise perform the duties required of a lifeguard with reasonable accommodation. Here, at the summary judgment stage, genuine issues of material fact exist regarding whether Keith is qualified to be a lifeguard at Oakland County’s wave pool, with or without reasonable accommodation and therefore able to bring a suit based on an ADA violation. Therefore, the Court concluded that the district court’s summary judgment was not appropriate. Accordingly, the Court reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings.