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A Better Partnership


May 2001
May 01, 2001

Michigan Supreme Court Clarifies Elements of "Regarded As" Disability Claims

Under the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act ("PWDCRA"), an employer may be liable for discriminating against an employee who is "regarded as" disabled. A divided Michigan Supreme Court provided new guidance on what an employee must show to support such a claim. In Michalski v. Bar-Levav (May 2001), the Court made clear that a worker asserting a "regarded as" claim must demonstrate that the employer perceived him as currently unable to perform a major life activity. In Michalski, the plaintiff was tentatively diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She presented evidence that her employer believed this might limit her ability to work in the future. The Court ruled that she could not pursue her discrimination claim because she failed to show that her employer regarded her as substantially limited in a major life activity. Significantly, the Court noted that a current fear by the employer about possible future substantial limitations of a major life activity is not proof that the employee was currently "regarded as" disabled. Two members of the Court strongly dissented, arguing that the "present tense" test announced in Michalski threatens to read "regarded as" claims right out of the PWDCRA.

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