Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Good Fifth Circuit Diabetes Case

Yesterday, the Fifth Circuit issued its opinion in Rodriguez v. Conagra Grocery Products Co., 2005 WL 3036318 (no free link yet -- I'll update this when it's available for free online). The case involved a laborer with Type II Diabetes who applied for a job at a Conagra plant that packs beans. Conagra extended him a conditional offer but withdrew the offer after a medical examination revealed his diabetes. Conagra said that it refused to hire Rodriguez because his diabetes was "uncontrolled" -- which basically meant that the Conagra's HR person thought (probably erroneously) that Rodriguez wasn't taking medication for his condition.

The district court granted summary judgment to Conagra. That court reasoned that Conagra hadn't discriminated against Rodriguez because he had diabetes but instead because he had uncontrolled diabetes, and that discrimination against someone who fails to take reasonable steps to control his condition is not prohibited by the ADA.

The Fifth Circuit reversed, in an opinion by Judge Wiener. The court declined to take a position on whether the ADA permits an employer to refuse to hire an individual who has failed to take steps to control an actual disability. (The court cited Jill Hasday's Michigan piece on this issue, as well as a student note taking the contrary position, to show that the issue was complicated.) But the court said that Rodriguez didn't have an actual disability -- his diabetes did not in fact substantially limit any major life activity. Rodriguez had a "disability" under the ADA because Conagra regarded him as disabled by misperceiving the limitations his diabetes imposed -- particularly, by believing that his diabetes limited him from working in virtually any job. Because Rodriguez was "qualified" for the position he sought, and he had no actual disability to mitigate, the Fifth Circuit held that Conagra had unlawfully discriminated against him. The court thus granted partial summary judgment for Rodriguez and remanded for calculation of damages.

This is a good decision both on the "regarded as" issue and on the "duty to mitigate" issue.


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