In Román -Oliveras v. Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that an employee with schizophrenia, who was removed from his job despite medical evaluations pronouncing him fit for duty, could sue his employer under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) where he had established a plausible inference that he was discriminated against because his employer regarded him as disabled.  Further, on an issue of first impression, the First Circuit ruled that the employee could not sue his two supervisors for disability discrimination under the ADA because the statute does not provide for individual liability against persons who are “not themselves employers.”

Héctor Luis Román-Oliveras worked as an electrician for Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) for 22 years without incident.  Román alleged that in 2006 PREPA inexplicably removed him from his job and forced him to undergo a series of medical evaluations.  Although each medical evaluation cleared him to return to work, PREPA continued to bar him from resuming his duties.  Román sued PREPA and two of his supervisors for disability discrimination based on his schizophrenia, a condition he was diagnosed with before he began working for PREPA and for which he received regular psychiatric treatments.  In his complaint, Román alleged that even though his doctors concluded that he was capable of returning to work, his employer still regarded him as disabled because he was schizophrenic.

Taking these allegations as true, the First Circuit concluded that Román had plausibly alleged that PREPA believed his schizophrenia substantially limited his ability to do his job, even though Román himself had not alleged any such limitation.  The Court also concluded that the statutory scheme under the ADA is analogous to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which does not support claims of individual liability.  Accordingly, the First Circuit affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the claims Román asserted against his supervisors.  This ruling is consistent with decisions from other circuit courts that have held that the ADA does not impose individual liability on supervisors or co-workers.

This decision should remind employers that an employee does not need to show that he is disabled in order to proceed with a “regarded as” disability claim and further, that, at least under federal law, ADA claims may not be brought against individual supervisors or co-workers.