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ADA protects diabetic fired for rude behavior.

The Sixth Circuit has ruled that a diabetic paramedic who was fired for being rude and cranky on the job can sue under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In reversing summary judgment, the court found that plaintiff Kevin Gilday may be disabled under the ADA because his illness significantly limits him in the major life activity of working. (Gilday v. Mecosta County, 124 F.3d 760 (6th Cir. 1997).)

Gilday worked for Mecosta County, Michigan, as a paramedic from 1978 until he was fired in 1994 for conduct unbecoming a paramedic and a history of rudeness to patients and colleagues. In 1991, he had been diagnosed with noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, which required him to take oral medication, monitor his blood-sugar levels, and follow a diet and exercise regimen.

Gilday sued the county and his firefighters' union under the ADA. He argued that his diabetes was a disability and that his employer should have granted him the reasonable accommodation of a transfer to a less chaotic station, which would have allowed him to adhere to his regimen and control his condition. Gilday contended that if he had been accommodated, his blood-sugar levels would not have fluctuated and he would not have engaged in the rude conduct that led to his termination.

Both parties agreed that Gilday's diabetes was in fact an impairment. The defendants argued, however, that when the impairment was properly treated and properly controlled, it did not substantially limit Gilday's ability to work or to engage in any other major life activity.

A three judge panel of the Sixth Circuit wrote that the district court--in holding that Gilday was not disabled--had focused exclusively on how the diabetes affected Gilday's life after it had been diagnosed and brought under control. That holding, the court said, was correct based on another recent Sixth Circuit decision, McKay v. Toyota Manufacturing, U.S.A., Inc., 110 F.3d 373 (1997).

While a majority of the panel in Gilday rejected a wholesale adoption of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's interpretive guidelines, it agreed with the commission's position that determining whether a person is substantially limited in a major life activity "must be made on a case-by-case basis."

Gilday had testified that his condition caused his blood-sugar levels to fluctuate to the point where he became so irritable that he could not get along with patients and coworkers. "The ability to get along with coworkers and customers is necessary for all but the most solitary of occupations," the court wrote, "and to the extent that his fluctuating blood-sugar levels impair this, Gilday's diabetes may substantially limit his ability to work, a major life activity."

The court disagreed with the defense argument that Gilday was not qualified to perform the essential functions of his job--treating patients and coworkers politely and being ready to work on an on-call basis. The court noted that Gilday had testified that if he had been moved to a less-busy station he could have better followed his regimen and would not have suffered from the blood-sugar fluctuations that made him rude.

The court wrote: "That he is presently employed, apparently without problems, lends some support to this claim.... An employer cannot deny an accommodation that the worker claims will make him able to perform the job and then argue that the worker's allegedly correctable performance justified termination."

Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, attorney Brent Snavely, who represented Gilday, said the decision makes clear that there is no bright-line rule for establishing disability in ADA cases. "This case was brutally fact-intensive," he said. "Clearly, lawyers must pay particular attention to the facts and take everything into account because ADA claims are to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis in the Sixth Circuit."

Snavely said the defense's petition for an en bane rehearing was denied.
COPYRIGHT 1997 American Association for Justice
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:McMurry, Kelly
Publication:Trial
Date:Dec 1, 1997
Words:630
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