On January 1, 2009, the ADA Amendments Act lowered the standard for applicants and employees to claim coverage as disabled individuals under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Last week, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes North Carolina and South Carolina) concluded that ADAAA does not apply retroactively to claims involving pre-2009 allegations of disability discrimination.

In an unpublished per curiam decision, Cochran v. Holder, the plaintiff claimed that between 1993 and 1995 he was forced to resign and refused rehire due to hearing loss (the case was brought under the Rehabilitation Act, which has the same definition of disability as that under the ADA). The Fourth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the complaint, noting that under pre-ADAAA standards, the plaintiff was not a qualified individual with a disability entitled to protection under the law. The court noted that all five federal appellate circuits that have considered the issue have refused to retroactively apply ADAAA's disability standards.

Although this decision provides comfort for employers litigating older ADA cases, many pre-2009 discrimination claims have worked their way through the EEOC and federal courts by now. Newer disability discrimination cases apply the broader ADAAA definitions of disabled persons, and are not subject to the type of early dispositive motions that resolved the Cochran matter.