Employment-Ninth Circuit Rules That A Teacher Without Legal Authorization To Teach Is Not Protected By The ADA

In Johnson v. Board of Trustees of Boundary County School District No. 101, No. 10-35233 (9th Cir. 2011), the question for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) was whether a disabled teacher is a “qualified individual with a disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”).

In this case the plaintiff, Patricia (“Trish”) Johnson (“Johnson”), who had a history of depression and bipolar disorder, taught special education in the Boundary County School District No. 101 (the “District”) in Idaho for a decade. Under state law, she was required to have a teaching certificate. Her certificate was set to expire prior to the start of the 2007-2008 school year, and at that time she was short three semester hours of college credit that was needed to renew. She was told by the District that, in order to teach during the 2007-2008 school year, she would need to petition the District’s Board of Trustees (“Board”), the defendant in the case, to apply for provisional authorization to teach without the certificate. However, the Board denied Johnson’s request for the authorization, and subsequently terminated Johnson’s employment with the District. Johnson then filed suit against the District alleging, among other things, an ADA violation.

In analyzing the case, the Court said that Title I of the ADA prohibits “discriminat[ion] against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual in regard to the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees.” (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a)). Thus, to prevail on her ADA claim, Johnson first must show that she is a “qualified individual with a disability”. The Court further said that the ADA defines “qualified individual” as “an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires.” (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8)). Under EEOC regulations, a “qualified individual with a disability” is one “who satisfies the requisite skills, experience, education and other job-related requirements of the employment position such individual holds or desires, and who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of such position.” (citing 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(m)).

The Court then said that the issue is whether Johnson’s lack of legal authorization to teach disqualifies her from being a “qualified individual”. The Court concluded that it did. In so concluding, the Court noted that the employer does not have to provide any reasonable accommodation -here providing the legal authorization-to help an employee meet job qualifications such as education and experience, as opposed to helping an employee perform essential job functions. Johnson does not challenge the need to obtain the legal authorization as itself being discriminatory against a disabled individual. Thus, the Court ruled that Johnson is not a “qualified individual with a disability”, and therefore does not have a claim under the ADA.