7th Circuit Clarifies Pleading Standards for Title VII and ADA Discrimination Complaints

On December 28, 2015, the 7th Circuit reversed the dismissal of an employment discrimination lawsuit. Tate v. SCR Medical Transportation, No. 15-1447 (7th Cir., 12/28/2015). The pro se plaintiff had alleged that the defendant discriminated against him on the basis of his sex and disability, and retaliated against him for complaining about discrimination. The district court dismissed the suit (without allowing the plaintiff to amend the complaint) on the ground that the complaint failed to state a claim because it lacked specificity. The 7th Circuit held that the complaint satisfied the "undemanding standard" for the plaintiff's Title VII employment discrimination case, in which he had adequately alleged sexual harassment, discrimination on the basis of sex, and retaliation for engaging in protected activity. Indeed, a complaint of sex discrimination must only allege that the employer took a specific adverse employment action against the plaintiff on the basis of her or his sex.

A complaint alleging disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, however, must allege more specifics. In order to state a claim for violation of the ADA, a plaintiff must allege that he is disabled within the meaning of the ADA, is nevertheless qualified to perform the essential functions of his job, with or without reasonable accommodation, and has suffered an adverse employment action because of his disability. Additionally, a plaintiff alleging discrimination on the basis of an actual disability must allege the specific disability. Otherwise, the defendant does not have fair notice of the claim. The plaintiff's ADA claim was deficient because he did not name or identify his disability in the complaint. Thus, dismissal of the ADA claim was proper, but the 7th Circuit also ruled that the district court should have allowed the plaintiff an opportunity to amend his complaint to allege the elements of a disability discrimination claim. On remand, he will have the opportunity to do so.