Thursday, May 3, 2007

Rose v. Visiting Nurse Association of Maryland, LLC (Maryland U.S.D.C.) (Not Approved for Publication)

Filed April 26, 2007--Memorandum and Order by Judge Catherine C. Blake. Not approved for publication.

Plaintiff filed this action alleging Defendant discriminated against her on the basis of her chronic anxiety in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and the Rehabilitation Act.

Plaintiff suffers from chronic anxiety, particularly when she drives over bridges and beltways. At the outset of her employment as a home hospice worker, she was assigned routes that did not require such travel. However, she was ultimately transferred to a route which required the type of travel that exacerbated her anxiety. Her physician wrote a recommendation that she temporarily confine her driving to city streets, to which Defendant responded by placing her on a leave of absence, until the restriction was lifted, due to a lack of accommodating substitute routes. With no activity by Plaintiff for over one year, she was terminated.

The Court granted Defendant's motion for summary judgment reasoning that Plaintiff did not have a disability within the meaning of those statutes. A plaintiff asserting a claim under either the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act must demonstrate that she had a disability according to those terms. Those statutes define a disability as "(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment. Plaintiff argued that her anxiety substantially limited her in the major life activity of working. The phrase "substantially limits" sets a threshold that excludes minor impairments from coverage under the ADA. An impairment substantially limits an employee's ability to work only where that employee is unable to work in a broad class of jobs. In other words, one must be precluded from more than one type of job, a specialized job, or a particular job of choice. In the Fourth Circuit, an employee must demonstrate that because of her impairment, she was "generally foreclosed" from jobs utilizing her skills.

In the instant action, Plaintiff's evidence consisted solely of her health care provider's diagnoses. Such reports fall short of demonstrating disability within the meaning of the statutes. Plaintiff, further, was not disabled because all other evidence showed she could have used her skills to work elsewhere, e.g., a hospital, nursing home, or hospice.

Finally, Defendant did not regard Plaintiff as disabled. An employer regards an employee as disabled only where it erroneously believes that either the employee has an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, or that the employee's actual, nonlimiting impairment substantially limits a major life activity. Where the major life activity is working, the employer must perceive the employee "to be significantly restricted in [her] ability to perform either a class of jobs or a broad range of jobs in various classes." There was no evidence here that Defendant regarded Plaintiff as substantially limited in her ability to work. Defendant's knowledge of Plaintiff's impairment, without more, does not indicate that the company regarded her as disabled. Additionally, the fact that Defendant viewed Plaintiff as incapable of performing one aspect of her job - driving to certain locations - does not mean that she was regarded as disabled.

The full opinion is available in PDF.

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