In a recent pre-ADAA case, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a former UPS employee's limitations caused by Type II diabetes were not disabling and that UPS did not fail to provide reasonable accommodation to a known disability. Despite the fact that this case was based on pre-ADAA law, there are still some useful takeaways that will apply notwithstanding the ADAA.
Rommel Griffin was a 28-year employee of UPS who suffered from Type II diabetes. He worked in a supervisor/management capacity on the twilight shift from 2 to 10 p.m. After Hurricane Katrina, Griffin experienced unusual numbness and pain that his doctor attributed to stress. He took a paid leave of absence to complete an outpatient behavioral counseling program. After completing this program, Griffin was better able to manage his stress and his symptoms improved.
Griffin was released to return to work and upon his return learned that his job had been filled. Griffin sought out two other positions; neither of which he was awarded. Ultimately, he was assigned the position he previously held; albeit on the midnight shift. Upon being told he was assigned to the midnight shift, Griffin delivered a letter titled "Accommodation Request" where he said that that his doctors required that his schedule be adjusted to daytime hours to accommodate his diabetes. UPS requested additional information from Griffin and his doctors to evaluate the request for accommodation.
In response to UPS's request, and key to the court's decision, were Griffin and his doctor's response. Griffin wrote a letter stating that "My diabetes is a condition that does not have to be a disability if I manage it properly, but to do so I will need UPS to make the accommodation to permit me to work days." His healthcare provider indicated "No" in response to the question regarding whether Griffin's impairments substantially limited his ability to perform any major life activities other than working. None of the information provided by the physicians said that Griffin needed daytime work hours. As a result of this information, UPS denied Griffin's request for accommodation. Shortly thereafter, Griffin tendered his notice of retirement. Prior to this retirement, he made no complaints to human resources about the denial of accommodation nor did he participate in UPS's formal dispute resolution program. Like UPS, the trial court also concluded that Griffin was not disabled and granted judgment in favor of the company.
On appeal, the court reviewed the decision that Griffin was not disabled. The court noted that Griffin had been able to manage his diabetes for years, without complication, so long as he maintained his regimen of medication, meals and rest. In this mitigated state, pre-ADAA law, Griffin's impairments could not be considered to be substantially limited. Importantly, the court observed that neither it, not the Supreme Court, has recognized the concept of per se disabilities and that Griffin's limitations were on the moderate end of the diabetes spectrum thereby not amounting to significant limitations on any major life activity. Consequently, the court of appeals also found that Griffin was not disabled.
Similarly, the court also affirmed judgment against Griffin on his failure to provide reasonable accommodation claim. The court affirmed judgment on this claim because there was no evidence that UPS was unwilling to engage in a good faith, interactive process regarding his request for accommodation. None of the information submitted by Griffin's doctors requested that he be assigned only daytime hours. Moreover, Griffin admitted that his diabetes does not have to be a disability if managed properly.
It should be clear that the Court's analysis of whether Griffin was disabled or diabetes qualifies as a disability has been superseded by the ADAA. However, there are still some good analysis that survives the changes made in the ADAA. First, where the information provided by the employee's doctor fails to demonstrate that the employee is disabled or that the particular accommodation requested is necessary because of the employee's disability, the employer does not fail to provide reasonable accommodation to a known disability. Second, where the employee terminates the interactive process through voluntary resignation or retirement, a failure to provide reasonable accommodation claim is difficult to maintain because it is difficult for the court to determine what measures would have been taken had the accommodation discussions continued.
You can download a full copy of Griffin v. UPS, Inc. here.
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