Each year, I watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with my kids, and inevitably I start to cry.
“Dad, Dad, what’s wrong?” my eight-year-old son asks, concern wrinkling his brow. “Is it the plight of the Misfit Toys that makes you sad?”
My sobs deepen, and I cannot respond verbally, only offering up a shake of my head.
“Dad, was it the thwarted employment opportunities of Hermey, who longs to be dentist and fulfill all his dreams?” His own eyes now glisten.
Again, I shake my head, tears streaming down my cheeks.
“Then what, Dad, WHAT?” my son demands.
I swipe away the wet lines of sorrow upon my face. “Son…”
“Son, it was the, the, the…the rank violation of federal law when it comes to Santa’s misguided and ultimately illegal perception that Rudolph had a disability under the ADA that rendered him unfit for Yuletide transportation services!”
And that’s when I fall apart completely.
Does Rudolph Have A Disability Under the ADA?
I don’t think he does. While the shining nose he bears might cause him some discomfort, there’s no evidence in the record that his nasal illumination “substantially limits one or more major life activities,” as the definition of a “disability” under the Animals with Disabilities Act would require. Regardless, Rudolph’s father attempts to cover up Rudolph’s nose through the application of some mud, thereby dimming the light (and adding breathing concerns to the whole conversation). Rudolph nonetheless enters into the reindeer games and competes under his own merits, where–inspired by a particularly fawning compliment of a young female deer–Rudolph far surpasses his compatriots in sheer talent. Santa, as the ultimate decision maker in all hiring decisions, is ready to hire young Rudolph, but then Rudolph’s nose covering comes loose, and the snow hits the fan.
Discrimination Based on a Perceived Disability Also Violates the ADA
Santa immediately disqualifies Rudolph’s employment. Why? Because Santa Claus discriminated against Rudolph due to what Santa Claus PERCEIVED to be Rudolph’s DISABILITY, which, as we learn through the story, turns out not to be a disability but a benefit. Santa believes that the BRIGHTNESS of Rudolph’s nose would somehow interfere with his duties on the sleigh team. Now, even if Santa believes this, he now has an obligation to engage in the interactive process with Rudolph to see whether or not Santa can accommodate Rudolph’s nose. He fails to do even the slightest bit of engagement. instead, Rudolph can no longer be involved in any reindeer games. At all!
However, under the Animals with Disabilities Act (ADA), discrimination against a potential employee with a disability, even the son of a very deer, deer friend, is illegal. Further, an employer, saint or not, cannot discriminate against a potential employee on what the employer PERCEIVES to be a disability. (Recall that Santa specifically told Donner that Rudolph would not make the sleigh team due to his nose.) It’s clear to me that Old Saint Nick BELIEVES it would prevent Rudolph from doing his job on the sleigh team, even though Santa does not support that claim with anything other than rank bias and outdated conceptions of what people with disabilities can actually do.
What Damages Can Rudolph Claim under the ADA?
Discriminating against Rudolph in terms of hiring for the sleigh team based solely on Santa’s misguided understanding of employment law exposes Santa to both personal liability under the ADA, as well as exposing his business, Santa’s Work Shop, Elf Elf C, to corporate liability.
Rudolph’s claims for damages are also extensive. Rudolph’s family relationships were stressed nearly to the breaking point, his romantic life was impacted, he was forced to flee his home, and he would up in the wildly depressing Land of the Misfit Toys. The claims for emotional distress alone would make this claim worthwhile.
Ultimately, were Rudolph to approach me about representing him in a case for ADA discrimination, I’d gladly accept with a wild shout of, “Let’s make it rein, deer!”