Southern District Court of Mississippi No. 5:06cv60-DCB-JMR, 2007 WL 3245169 November 1, 2007 Keywords:
employment, legal concepts, major life activity, state & local government
Facts of the Case
Mr. Walker, a veteran law enforcement officer, was diagnosed with diabetes over 17 years ago. In 1998, Mr. Walker was hired by the City of Vicksburg Police Department (City) as a patrol officer. He frequently worked the “C Shift,” which ran from 11:00 pm to 7:00 am. In February 2004, Mr. Walker began experiencing dizziness, lapses in memory and drowsiness while on the job. He consulted Dr. Wilson, who felt Mr. Walker should be reassigned to shifts during the standard working day. Mr. Walker submitted to the City a letter from Dr. Wilson and requested a reasonable accommodation in his work hours. Mr. Walker, however, was not assigned to day shifts, and returned to the C Shift in April. In early May, Mr. Walker began experiencing blackout periods while driving. His supervisor assigned him to temporary desk duty. Additionally, the supervisor requested a letter from Dr. Wilson assuring the City that Mr. Walker would not experience anymore blackouts, before he would be permitted to resume patrol officer duties. Subsequently, the City referred Mr. Walker to another doctor, Dr. Nicolas, who claimed there was no correlation between Mr. Walker’s diabetes and the drowsiness he experienced on the night shift. Dr. Wilson did not agree with Dr. Nicolas’ assessment and wrote a letter in response. Dr. Wilson’s letter reiterated that because of Mr. Walker’s diabetes he should work normal daytime hours and sleep during the night, and suggested he could work any shifts between 6am and 6pm. Mr. Walker informed the City of Dr. Wilson’s suggestion and requested the reasonable accommodation of working a day shift. When Mr. Walker returned to patrol duties, nonetheless, he was placed on the C Shift, and soon after assigned to the “B Shift” (i.e., between the hours of 3 pm and 11 pm).
Issues of the Case
- Under the ADA, does Mr. Walker’s diabetic condition substantially limit him in the major life activities of eating, thinking, or caring for himself, such as to qualify him as a person with a disability and in need of reasonable accommodations?
Arguments & Analysis
1. Mr. Walker alleged the City did not reasonably accommodate his disability in violation of the ADA. Mr. Walker asserted his diabetic condition affected him in three major life activities: (1) eating, (2) thinking, and (3) caring for himself.
The City argued Mr. Walker did not present any evidence of having a disability under the ADA.
2. First, Mr. Walker argued he was substantially limited in the major life activity of eating because he constantly had to be vigilant about the type and timing of food he consumes.
The Court determined that his eating habits were not “restricted to a large degree,” and thus he was not substantially limited in the major life activity of eating.
3. Second, Mr. Walker argued his diabetes substantially affected his ability to care for himself because he suffered dizziness and periods of blackout while working the C Shift.
The Court found Mr. Walker’s dizziness and blackout periods sufficient evidence of the diabetes affecting his ability to care for himself for a jury to determine he was substantially limited in this major life activity. Similarly, the Court found the dizziness and blackouts sufficient evidence of the diabetes affecting his thinking to go to a jury.
The Court concluded Mr. Walker presented enough evidence of substantial limitations to go forward with his ADA claim. At trial, the Court will determine if Mr. Walker qualifies as an individual with disability under the ADA, and if so, will determine if the City failed to provide him a reasonable accommodation.
Policy & Practice
Major Life Activities
The Court noted concern that if it determined Mr. Walker was substantially limited in the major life activity of eating, then any person who had to keep a close eye on his/her diet may be considered an individual with a disability under the ADA. This might include people who are lactose intolerant or have food allergies, as well as most everyone diagnosed with diabetes. Generally, major life activities may include caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.
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These materials were prepared by the legal research staff of the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University in partnership with the Southeast ADA Center to highlight legal and policy developments relevant to civil rights protections and the impact of court decisions in the Southeast Region under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These materials are based on federal disability rights laws and court decisions in effect at the time of publication. Federal and state disability rights law can change at any time. In addition, state and local laws and regulations may provide different or additional protections. Materials are intended solely as informal guidance, and are neither a determination of your legal rights nor responsibilities under the ADA or other federal, state, and local laws, nor binding on any agency with enforcement responsibility under the ADA. The accuracy of any information contained herein is not warranted. Any links to external websites are provided as a courtesy and are not intended to nor do they constitute an endorsement of the linked materials.