Thursday, May 1, 2014

You can't draw blood with shaky hands

The plaintiff in this Americans with Disabilities Act case sued the local community college after he was kicked out of an academic program for dishonesty. The Court of Appeals says the plaintiff does not have a disability under the pre-2009 ADA and that the college articulated a neutral reason for plaintiff's expulsion.

The case is Widomski v. Orange County Community College, issued on April 8. Plaintiff was studying to be a licensed medical laboratory technician. He was required to submit weekly clinical summary reports to his instructor. These reports would talk about the work that students performed in their course of study. At some point, the teacher told plaintiff that he could not draw blood from patients because he has shaky hands. Although plaintiff does not have a disability that makes his hands shake, he argues that the College perceived him to have such a disability. He complained that he was not allowed to draw blood. Plaintiff was ultimately shown the door when the College came to believe that he was submitting false written reports to satisfy the academic requirements.

The Court of Appeals opts to publish this opinion, probably to clarify that the definition of "disability" under the ADA applies to each section of the Act, be it Title I (which covers employment) or other Titles which deal with public accommodations, etc. Some district courts applied a different definition for the Titles, but the Court of Appeals (Lohier, Sack and Straub) puts its foot down. Disability means disability.

On the merits, plaintiff cannot show that the College perceived him as disabled. Again this case was brought under the old ADA, not the new ADA, which grants plaintiffs more leeway in proving they have a perceived disability. Under the old ADA, the College did not regard plaintiff as having an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. No one believed that plaintiff's shaky hands "excluded him from a broad class of jobs." Instead, he could work other jobs with his degree from the College. He just can't draw blood. I don't think the Court of Appeals wants guys with shaky hands drawing anyone's blood.

As for plaintiff's expulsion from the program, the Court says that he cannot show his removal from the program was a pretext for retaliation. (The protected activity was his lawyer's letter of protest when plaintiff was removed from the blood draw program). The College believed in good faith that plaintiff fabricated two written assignments, and plaintiff "fails to raise a genuine factual dispute as to whether this explanation is false or otherwise pretextual."

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