Boitnott v. Corning Inc., __ F.3d __, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 2657 (4th Cir. 2012). Michael Boitnott began working at Corning in 1989 and initially worked twelve hours shifts, alternating two weeks of day shifts with two weeks of night shifts. In May of 2002 Boitnott had a heart attack, which was followed by further cardiac difficulties. He was diagnosed with leukemia in 2003, but, according to court documents, his physicians determined that his leukemia did not necessitate any treatment at the time.
In February 2004, Boitnott advised Corning that he could return to work. He also provided his employer with a physician’s statement that stated he was limited to working eight hours per day.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), a person is disabled if he or she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, such as working. Under the ADA, an employer is obligated to provide an employee with a reasonable accommodation for his or her disability, unless doing so would create an undue hardship for the employer.
Corning took the position that Boitnott was not disabled under the ADA because he could work an eight hour work day and a 40 hour work week. Corning’s argument was that a person who can work eight and forty is not “substantially limited in a major life activity.” Corning refused Boitnott’s request for an accommodation because, as noted above, reasonable accommodations are required only for a person with a disability.
Rather than returning to his twelve hour shifts, Boitnott instead applied for long-term disability benefits. His insurer initially granted him those benefits, but later terminated those benefits because he could work a normal forty hour work week and positions with Corning would have allowed that schedule. Boitnott also filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) based on Corning’s failure to accommodate his disability.
When Boitnott’s long-term disability benefits were terminated, he indicated an interest in returning to work with Corning, but only in positions that required ten hour shifts and some overtime. Corning, through union representatives, told Boitnott that his physician’s statement limiting his working hours remained a problem. On December 30, 2004, Boitnott received a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC.
On January 18, 2005, one of Boitnott’s physicians indicated that he could work up to ten hours a day four days a week, but made no provision for overtime hours. On April 28, 2005, another physician certified that Boitnott could work ten hours a day plus a “moderate” amount of overtime.
With this lifting of the overtime restriction, Corning and the union began working towards Boitnott’s return to work. At the time, no day shift positions were available but Corning created a new position in the maintenance department that would allow Boitnott to work eight hours a day plus overtime. Boitnott returned to work on September 5, 2005, and, as of the date of the appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, he still worked in that position.
The issue addressed by the Fourth Circuit was this: did Boitnott have a disability, such that Corning’s failure to grant his request for accommodation constituted discrimination?
If a plaintiff argues that a disability substantially limits the major life activity of working, he must show that his impairment significantly restricts his ability to perform either a class of jobs or a broad range of jobs in various classes as compared to the average person having comparable training, skills and abilities. Additionally, the inability to perform a single, particular job does not constitute a substantial limitation in the major life activity of working.
In this case the Fourth Circuit decided to follow other circuits in deciding that a plaintiff is not disabled if he is capable of working a forty hour work week but not capable of working any overtime. Inability to work overtime is not a “substantial” limitation under the ADA.
This case may have been resolved differently if, rather than focusing on his inability to work certain hours as rendering him disabled, the Plaintiff had instead focused on what it was that was preventing him to work certain hours. Especially if this case were decided under the ADA Amendments Act, which Congress enacted in 2008, Boitnott’s leukemia may have been considered a substantial impairment. But in this case, because the court was presented with evidence that Boitnott’s physician stated in 2003 that his leukemia did not necessitate any treatment at the time, it could not very well analyze whether the Plaintiff’s leukemia was a disability.