Thursday, July 9, 2009

Disabled doctor loses ADA claim

A doctor of osteopathic medicine lost his license when New York found him guilty of engaging in improper medical practices, including false statements in applying to work for hospitals and providing negligent and incompetent care. But he has a defense: he has a learning disability as well as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and can work again if the State complied with the Americans With Disabilities Act. He loses the case.

The case is Harris v. Mills, decided on July 9. Dr. Harris argues that the State Education Department "wrongly denied him an 'understanding of the impact of [his] disabilities,'" which resulted in an "unfair" reinstatement hearing. But the Court of Appeals (Sack, Parker and Cote) disagrees, reasoning: "Harris thus alleges, at core, that if only the defendants would 'understand' the impact of his disabilities, they would be willing to overlook the actions that caused him to lose his license in the first place." This does not allege a legitimate reasonable accommodation claim under Title II of the ADA because "Harris would be entitled to a reinstatement of his license only if his disability is accommodated by the state's relaxation of its license qualifications." There are no preferences under Title II, only reasonable accommodations that create a level playing field for disabled plaintiffs.

Dr. Harris has another argument. He wants to be able to read to the Committee on Professions a written explanation of his case so that his case "would be more organized and clearly presented." This also fails to make out an ADA claim. The Court notes that while plaintiff "asks only for reasonable access to a hearing in which to make his case for resinstatment," in fact, he does not allege that he was denied this opportunity at the hearing because of his disability, and "it is not clear how such an accommodation would have helped Harris" since the complaint alleges that he has "difficulty with comprehending the written word" and "a related problem with written expression." Based on these admissions, any attempt to read to the Committee at the hearing would have frustrated his goals, not advanced them.

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