impairment which substantially limits one or more of his major life activities. See Ryan, 1996 WL 680256 at *5. In this case, the major life activity at issue is Plaintiff's ability to work.
With respect to the major life activity of working, the term "substantially limits" is defined as "significantly restricted in the ability to perform either a class of jobs or a broad range of jobs. . . ." 29 C.F.R. § 1630(j)(3)(i). The Second Circuit has interpreted the term to mean "foreclosed a wide range of employment options within [the employee's] field" and "[foreclosure of] generally the type of employment involved." Heilweil, 32 F.3d at 724. (citations omitted). Therefore, an individual's inability to perform a single, particular job does not constitute a substantial limitation. See 29 C.F.R. § 1630(j)(3)(i).
Here, the NYCTA regarded Plaintiff as having a disability which substantially limits his major life activity of working. This is evidenced by the fact that Defendant immediately placed him on a no-work status and subsequently on restricted duty after learning of his diabetic condition. Dr. Alexander determined that the state of Plaintiff's diabetes could possibly "lead to major problems such as loss of consciousness, seizure, coma, [or] death." (Alexander Dep. at 45). As a result, she concluded that his duties needed to be greatly restricted. Id. at 28.
Importantly, Plaintiff was initially placed on a no-work status which demonstrates that Defendant believed he should not be working at all as a result of his condition. Additionally, the restrictions which were placed on Plaintiff further evidence the fact that the NYCTA regarded his impairment as a substantial limitation on his ability to perform a broad range of jobs.
The NYCTA physicians imposed restrictions which in effect forced Plaintiff out of the position he held at the time. Id. at 50. Under the medical restrictions, Plaintiff was only allowed to work in situations in which there were no heights and no hazardous conditions. Id. at 28. In addition, he could not "operate any [NYCTA] vehicle and off tracks and structures." Id. Furthermore, when asked to describe the less hazardous duties that Plaintiff could possibly perform under these restrictions, a NYCTA supervisor stated that "they are all hazardous." (Lederman Dep. at 26). He went on to say that the NYCTA does not have . . . restricted-type jobs. It's not in the field." Id.
According to Plaintiff, his duties and hours were greatly diminished after the July 13, 1993 physical examination. In fact, Defendant concedes that "Plaintiff lost a considerable amount of work time because his subdivision could not find assignments for him consistent with the medical restrictions noted by the NYCTA physicians." (Def. Mem. of Law at 4). Such restrictions effectively precluded Plaintiff from not only his particular job, but also a wide range of other jobs within the NYCTA. (Lederman Dep. at 25-29).
This Court finds that the NYCTA regarded Plaintiff as having a physical impairment which foreclosed employment opportunities in Plaintiff's field. In effect, the NYCTA believed that Plaintiff was significantly restricted in his ability to perform a broad range of jobs. See Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v. Chrysler Corp., 917 F. Supp. 1164, 1168-69 (E.D. Mich. 1996).
Accordingly, Plaintiff has shown that he is a disabled person under the ADA.
2) Plaintiff's Qualifications
Plaintiff must also prove "that he is otherwise qualified to perform his job" at the NYCTA. 42 U.S.C.A. § 12111(8). Under 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8), a "qualified individual with a disability" is defined as "an individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires." 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8). See also Gilbert v. Frank, 949 F.2d 637, 641-642 (1991).
The "essential functions" of Plaintiff's positions as Power Distribution Maintainer and/or Power Distribution Maintainer's Helper for the NYCTA include, inter alia, working with live (circuit) equipment, doing regular maintenance, performing in an office, writing reports, driving and responding to emergencies involving the repair and replacement of third rails. (Lederman Dep. at 25-29). Such duties take place in subway tunnels, elevated structures and repair shop environments.
Plaintiff contends that despite his diabetic condition he has always been and continues to be qualified to handle all the responsibilities of a Power Distributor Maintainer. One of Plaintiff's supervisors, Frank Asnes, supports Plaintiff's contention that he has always performed his job in a satisfactory manner. (Asnes Dep. at 8). Mr. Asnes also felt that Plaintiff did not create or pose a threat to co-workers while on full duty status. Id. at 9.
However, Defendant disputes whether Plaintiff was qualified. First, Defendant points to the fact that Plaintiff's diabetic condition presented a safety concern possibly disqualifying Plaintiff from full duty. Defendant contends that it was not certain if Plaintiff's diabetes was under control in July of 1993. Accordingly, Defendant took precautionary measures in light of the potential risks involved with Plaintiff's performance of the essential functions of his job. Furthermore, Defendant states that Plaintiff may have posed a direct threat to himself, his co-workers and others if he continued on full duty status at that time.
Despite Defendant's assertions, it has not shown that Plaintiff was not qualified for his job in light of his diabetes. The Court finds it significant that Plaintiff has been a diabetic for forty years and has been in control of his condition. Moreover, Plaintiff has never experienced any problems on the job related to his diabetes. Although Defendant speculates as to possible safety concerns posed by Plaintiff's condition, no evidence has been produced demonstrating that Plaintiff's diabetes rendered him incapable of performing his job responsibilities. Furthermore, the NYCTA physicians never inquired of Plaintiff's supervisors as to whether Plaintiff displayed any symptoms in his job performance demonstrating that he was not qualified. (Alexander Dep. at 30; Genser Dep. at 46). As a result, the Court concludes that Plaintiff has shown that he was qualified for his position.
Plaintiff has proven that he is disabled under the meaning of the ADA. Additionally, he has demonstrated that he was qualified for his job. Finally, it is clear that adverse action was taken against Plaintiff--as he was placed on no-work status for a period and subsequently placed on restricted duty. Thus, Plaintiff has established a prima facie case of disability discrimination.
B. Defendant's Consideration of Plaintiff's Condition
As set forth above, if a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the defendant then has the burden of rebutting the inference that it improperly considered the plaintiff's disability. See Teahan, 951 F.2d at 515. It is not disputed that the action taken by Defendant was in response to discovering that Plaintiff has diabetes. However, Defendant claims that Plaintiff's condition was in fact relevant to Plaintiff's job qualifications. In particular, Defendant claims that Plaintiff may have posed a safety risk and possibly a direct threat to others, thereby necessitating its precautionary measures of restricting Plaintiff's work duties. Additionally, Defendant asserts that its placement of Plaintiff on restricted duty was an attempt on its part to make reasonable accommodations for Plaintiff, although unsolicited, in light of his condition.
Under 42 U.S.C. § 12113(a),
It may be a defense to a charge of discrimination under this chapter that an alleged application of qualification standards,... that... otherwise deny a job or benefit to an individual with a disability has been shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity, and such performance cannot be accomplished by reasonable accommodation, as required under this subchapter.
"Qualification standards" may include "a requirement that an individual shall not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals in the workplace." 42 U.S.C. § 12111(b).
The term "direct threat" is defined as a "significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by reasonable accommodation." 42 U.S.C. § 12111(3). A slightly increased risk is not enough to constitute a direct threat; there must be a high probability of substantial harm. See Chrysler Corp., 917 F. Supp. at 1170 (citing 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(r)). Moreover, a mere speculative or remote risk is not sufficient. Id.
Indeed, the determination of whether an individual poses a "direct threat" must be based on an "individualized assessment of the individual's ability to perform safely the essential functions of the job." Id. The factors to be considered in deciding whether a person is a "direct threat" are: (1) the duration of the risk; (2) the nature and severity of the potential harm; (3) the likelihood that the potential harm will occur; and (4) the imminence of the potential harm. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(r). However, it is Defendant's burden to prove that Plaintiff was a direct threat. Chrysler Corp., 917 F. Supp. at 1171.
Despite Defendant's predictions, it has not produced evidence supporting its contention that Plaintiff posed a direct threat to himself or his co-workers. In essence, the only information on which Defendant based its action is the speculative conclusions of Dr. Alexander and Dr. Genser and the possibility that there may be future manifestations of symptoms of diabetes and complications related thereto. Dr. Alexander acknowledged that it is important to get a patient's complete history when analyzing him and that part of that complete history would be the patient's performance on the job. (Alexander Dep. at 30). Yet, neither Dr. Alexander nor Dr. Genser ever contacted Plaintiff's supervisors to learn whether Plaintiff ever had any diabetes-related problems on the job in the past. Id.; (Genser Dep. at 46, 48). Specifically, when Dr. Alexander was asked if Plaintiff displayed any symptoms in his job performance that led her to believe he had to be put on restriction she stated, "I didn't know if he had any. I didn't pursue that, no." (Alexander Dep. at 30). Indeed, Dr. Alexander admits that she lacked important information at the time Plaintiff was placed on restricted duty. (Id. at 77).
Additionally, Defendant has not performed an individualized assessment of Plaintiff's condition to determine whether it posed a direct threat. Indeed, Dr. Genser stated that his individual assessment was not based at all upon actual job performance. (Genser Dep. at 48). The administration of the physicals and the tests conducted during Plaintiff's examinations do not constitute an individualized assessment as contemplated by 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(r). See Chrysler Corp., 917 F. Supp. at 1171. Thus, it was inappropriate for Defendant to take action without performing such assessment.
This Court finds that Defendant fails to provide any evidence that Plaintiff posed a direct threat to himself and/or others. In contrast, the evidence shows that Plaintiff did not pose such a threat. As stated above, Plaintiff has not experienced any diabetes related problems on the job thereby requiring the imposed work restrictions. Plaintiff informed the NYCTA physicians of this fact. (Alexander Dep. at 31). Indeed, Plaintiff was subsequently found to be in "fair control" of his diabetes by Dr. Genser. (Genser Dep. at 44). Moreover, Plaintiff always performed his job in a satisfactory manner on a full-duty status. Further, the Court has the benefit of hindsight in this instance and notes that Plaintiff was restored to full duty status and promoted. Certainly, a speculative or remote risk is insufficient to establish a "direct threat" defense. See 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(r). Therefore, Defendant has not met its burden.
Furthermore, Defendant claims that it was attempting to make reasonable accommodations for Plaintiff in light of his condition. Plaintiff did not want the accommodations and they later proved to be unnecessary. Nevertheless, assuming arguendo that Defendant's actions were proper, this Court finds that the alleged accommodations were not reasonable. Importantly, the Court notes that at the time Defendant placed Plaintiff on no-work status and restricted duty, it lack sufficient information upon which to craft reasonable accommodations. Mere speculation is insufficient to allow Defendant to take the adverse action it took in this case. Further, Plaintiff was severely restricted in his duties which was not warranted in light of his condition and satisfactory performance.
For the reasons stated above, this Court finds that Plaintiff has proven disability discrimination. Since there are no triable issues of fact, Plaintiff is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment is granted. The only issue remaining with regard to Plaintiff's ADA claim is damages. The parties are hereby directed to schedule a conference with United States Magistrate Judge Go in order to determine whether there are motions to be made with regard to Plaintiff's intentional infliction of emotional distress claim.
Dated: March 30, 1998
Brooklyn, New York
Sterling Johnson, Jr.