AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Corrections Law
for Jails, Prisons and Detention Facilities


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Disability Discrimination: Employees

     A correctional clerical employee's job involved looking for coded gang messages in inmate mail. She filed a lawsuit under Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12112(a), and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2612(a)(1)(D), claiming that her allergic reaction to the use of scented candles and wall plug-ins around her work area constituted a disability. A federal appeals court held that this did not qualify as a disability under the ADA and that her employer had not received her FMLA certification before an applicable deadline, so that her rights under that statute were not violated. Milton v. Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice, #12-20034, 2013 U.S. App. Lexis 4177 (5th Cir.).
     A woman employed as a physician's assistant by the Utah Department of Corrections claimed that she was subjected to disability discrimination when the department added to her job requirements, and to other jobs requiring inmate contact, a physical safety training requirement that she was unable to complete because of physical restrictions. The court found that a job function that is "rarely required" in the normal course of an employee's duties can still be an "essential" job function, and that in this case, the employee was not entitled to demand that her job duties not include this essential function. The potential consequences of employing an employee in a job involving inmate contact who could not complete the training was "sufficiently severe" to mandate this result. In this case, the employee suffers from lupus, osteoarthritis, rheumatism, avascular necrosis, Sjögrenís syndrome, and fibromyalgia. She also had both hips replaced and underwent surgery on her left shoulder. Because of these medical problems, she could not complete the required training,  She was offered a job elsewhere where such training was not required, at a location 100 miles from her home, and was told, in the alternative, that she would be terminated. She was ultimately fired. Rejecting the argument that this amounted to disability discrimination, the court noted that the department's fears "regarding the physical safety of its medical and clinical staff were realized in 1999, when a medical technician was attacked by an inmate during the course of her duties." This incident led to the training requirement, which the court upheld. Hennagir v. Utah Dep't of Corr., #08-4087, 2009 U.S. App. Lexis 20163 (10th Cir.).
     A correctional officer who suffered a job-related back injury was terminated after he rejected an offered position when he was cleared to return to work with specified restrictions. Rejecting his argument that this constituted disability discrimination in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 791, the court found that the officer failed to allege that his back injury interfered with his performance of a major life activity. Given that, and the fact that his injury was not long term or permanent, the officer did not show that he was a person with a disability under the Act. Aguillard v. Mukasey, No. 07-31036, 2008 U.S. App. Lexis 19429 (Unpub. 5th Cir.).
     Applicant for job as a corrections officer, who was born without a right hand, had presented evidence that she could perform the essential functions of the job, and the employer, in rejecting her, only gave "generalized, conclusory" statements to the contrary, and failed to show why proposed accommodations were unreasonable or that the employee's presence on the job would create a danger to herself or to others. The employer's motion for summary judgment in her disability discrimination lawsuit was therefore denied, despite a doctor's finding that she was unfit because of a lack of manual dexterity in both hands. The employer's job requirements stated that such manual dexterity was needed to restrain unruly prisoners, to provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and to handle firearms. Taylor v. Hampton Roads Regional Jail Authority, No. 2:07cv294, 2008 U.S. Dist. Lexis 37508 (E.D. Va.).
     A deputy sheriff with epilepsy was not subjected to disability discrimination when he was fired subsequent to having a seizure in a jail cell and a doctor's report indicating that his epilepsy was poorly controlled. He failed to show that he could perform his essential job functions with a reasonable accommodation, or that he could meet a reasonable medical standard of being "seizure free." Dicksey v. New Hanover County Sheriff's Dept., No. 7:06-CV-70, 2007 U.S. Dist. Lexis 83876 (E.D.N.C.).
     A correctional officer terminated during her probationary period after she exhibited "hysterical behavior" resulting in a psychiatric exam after undergoing training in the use of the baton and disturbance control failed to show that she was subjected to disability discrimination under either federal or New York state law. She failed to establish that the employer's action was taken on the basis of a perception that she was either a drug addict or mentally ill. Almond v. Westchester County Department of Corrections, No. 04 CIV.8222, 425 F. Supp. 2d 394 (S.D.N.Y. 2006). [N/R]
     Policy of state correctional department requiring employees to submit general medical diagnoses as part of the medical certification procedure concerning the employee's entitlement to leave violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. Sec. 12112, since it constituted an inquiry into whether the employee might have a disability and was prohibited in the absence of a showing of "business necessity." Conroy v. New York State Department of Correctional Services, No. 02-7415, 333 F. 3d 88 (2nd Cir. 2003). [N/R]
    There was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether a correctional officer was a "disabled person" and was "otherwise qualified" for his position after he was prescribed an anticoagulant drug which made him more susceptible to serious internal or external bleeding if he was physically injured and his physician recommended that he not have contact with inmates. Summary judgment for sheriff's office on officer's disability discrimination claim under Oregon state law was improper. Evans v. Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, No. 0002-01090, A112917, 57 P. 3d 211 (Or. App. 2002).[N/R]
     Firing of state correctional officer, allegedly for refusing to take a mandatory tuberculosis test, was not disability discrimination in violation of the federal Rehabilitation Act. Appeals court rejects the argument that the employer regarded him as disabled on the basis of his alleged sensitivity to the test. Patterson v. Illinois Department of Corrections, #01-3456, 37 Fed. Appx. 801 (7th Cir. 2002). [2002 JB Nov]
     Sick leave policy of New York state Department of Corrections requiring an employee to provide a diagnosis of her medical condition each time she was absent from work violated provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. Sec. 12101 et seq., prohibiting medical inquiries likely to cause an employee to reveal disabilities or perceived disabilities. Fountain v. N.Y. State Department of Correctional Services, 190 F. Supp. 2d 335 (N.D.N.Y. 2002). [N/R]
     States could not be sued in federal court for money damages under the Americans With Disabilities Act, but that state prison officials, in their official capacities, are not immune from liability under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, another federal law prohibiting disability discrimination, when they accepted federal funds. Key v. Grayson, No. CIV. 96-40166, 163 F. Supp. 2d 697 (E.D. Mich. 2001). [2002 JB Feb]
     291:35 U.S. Supreme Court rules that Congress exceeded its authority by attempting to make employment discrimination provisions of Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) applicable to state government; employees can no longer sue states under this federal statute for money damages for disability discrimination. Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett, #99-1240, 531 U.S. 356 (2001).
     292:53 UPDATE: Federal appeals court upholds ruling that being able to handle inmates, including the possibility of physical confrontation, was an essential job function of a position as a deputy sheriff, so that terminating her after she received an injury preventing her from doing so was not disability discrimination. Hoskins v. Oakland County Sheriff's Dept., No. 99-1491, 227 F.3d 719 (6th Cir. 2000).
     [N/R] Congress did not validly abrogate states' Eleventh Amendment soverign immunity from lawsuits under employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act; terminated correctional officer's claims against state corrections department under the ADA dismissed. Lavia v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections, No. 99-3863, 224 F.3d 190 (3rd Cir. 2000).
     [N/R] Eleventh Amendment immunity barred correctional employee's disability discrimination against state Department of Corrections under Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA); dismissal of ADA claim warranted dismissal of her claim under state disability discrimination statute also. Walker v. Missouri Department of Corrections, No. 99-2321, 213 F.3d 1035 (8th Cir. 2000).
     286:149 Federal appeals court rules that lawsuits against a state under Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), prohibiting disability discrimination by any public entity, including claims for injunctive relief, could not be pursued in federal court because of Eleventh Amendment immunity. Walker v. Snyder, No. 98-3308, 213 F.3d 344 (7th Cir. 2000).
     280:51 Correctional officer whose medical condition required her to avoid a risk of harm through altercations with inmates could not perform her essential job functions which involved inmate contact; her termination was not disability discrimination. Pickering v. City of Atlanta, 75 F. Supp. 2d 1374 (N.D. Ga. 1999).
     285:132 Being able to handle inmates, including the possibility of physical confrontation, was an essential job function of her position as a deputy sheriff, so that terminating her after she received an injury preventing her from doing so was not disability discrimination. Hoskins v. Oakland County Sheriff's Dept., 44 F. Supp. 2d 882 (E.D. Mich. 1999).
     [N/R] Corrections officer with arthritic knee condition was not an otherwise qualified disabled individual under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA); officer was not entitled to permanent light duty post (tower duty only) as an accommodation of his condition. Martin v. Kansas, No. 98-3102, 190 F.3d 1120 (10th Cir. 1999).
     273:131 U.S. Supreme Court, in three decisions, narrowly interprets federal disability discrimination statute; plaintiff employees whose disabilities may be corrected by medication or devices such as eyeglasses will generally not be disabled persons entitled to protection against employment discrimination. Murphy v. United Parcel Service, Inc., #97- 1992, 119 S. Ct. 2133 (1999); Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc., #97-1943, 119 S. Ct. 2139 (1999); Albertsons, Inc. v. Kirkingburg, #98-591, 119 S. Ct. 2162 (1999).
     260:115 Unanimous U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to state prisons, based on "unambiguous" text of statute; Court does not address question of whether applying ADA to state prisons was a constitutional exercise of authority by Congress; ruling expected to result in more ADA lawsuits by prisoners. Penn. Dept. of Corrections v. Yeskey, No. 97-634, 118 S.Ct. 1952 (1998).
     » Editor's Note:
     * In Armstrong v. Wilson, 124 F.3d 1019 (9th Cir. 1997), a federal appeals court upheld a trial court's injunctive order that California officials develop a plan for compliance with the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 in the state prison system.
     * In Love v. Westville Correctional Center, 103 F.3d 558 (7th Cir. 1996), the appeals court upheld an award of $30,948 in damages under the ADA to a quadriplegic inmate who claimed he was denied access to prison recreational, work, educational, and rehabilitative programs because of his disability; the prisoner was also awarded $39,536.75 in attorneys' fees.
     * In Duffy v. Riveland, 98 F.3d 447 (9th Cir. 1996), the court found that a prisoner could sue correctional officials under the ADA for alleged failure to provide him with a qualified sign language interpreter for disciplinary and classification hearings.
     * In Crawford v. Indiana Dept. of Corrections, 115 F.3d 481 (7th Cir. 1997), the court ruled that a blind inmate could pursue his claim under the ADA that he was excluded from prison educational programs and denied access to the library and dining hall because of his disability.
     * In an ADA suit brought in state court, the judge refused to dismiss a suit, brought by a paraplegic inmate against a sheriff and others, for transporting him in a van that was not wheelchair accessible. Davis v. Mak, 1997 WL 133410 (Conn. Super. 1997).
     265:4 State was not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but African-American employees suffering from skin condition requiring them to wear beards did not have a disability for purposes of ADA. Seaborn v. State of Fla. Dept. of Corrections, #97-2855, 143 F.3d 1405 (11th Cir. 1998).
     268:51 Correctional officers whose disabilities prevented them from having direct contact with inmates were not "otherwise qualified" individuals entitled to protection under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA); direct inmate contact was an essential job function of being a correctional officer. Kees v. Wallenstein, #97-35559, 161 F.3d 1196 (9th Cir. 1998).
     269:67 State correctional department engaged in disability discrimination when it discharged correctional sergeant who could not use her right shoulder when firing a shotgun following injury; other employees had been allowed to use their left shoulder to fire shotguns in the past and department did not take adequate steps to attempt to accommodate disability. Illinois Dept. of Corrections v. Illinois Human Rights Commission, 699 N.E.2d 143 (Ill. App. 1998).
     [N/R] Correctional officer suffering from alcoholism and depression failed to show that he was fired under circumstances which would support an inference of disability discrimination. Wallin v. Minnesota Dept. of Corrections, #97-3309, 97-3956, 153 F.3d 681 (8th Cir. 1998).
     250:150 Termination of correctional officer whose disability prevented him from using firearms was not disability discrimination, as use of a firearm was an essential job function; officer was not "otherwise qualified" for his position when he could not perform this function. Johnson v. State of Md., 940 F.Supp. 873 (D. Md. 1996). » Editor's Note: See also Burke v. Comm. of Virginia, 938 F.Supp. 320 (E.D.Va. 1996), in which the court found that correctional officials did not unlawfully discriminate against a correctional officer when they reclassified him, at the same pay rate, as a vehicle operator because he suffered from "attention deficit" and "hyperactivity disorder."
     250:151 Correctional officials acted objectively reasonably in terminating correctional officer who would be unable, after back injury, to restrain inmates; defendant officials were entitled to qualified immunity from liability in disability discrimination lawsuit. Allison v. Dept. of Corrections, 94 F.3d 494 (8th Cir. 1996).
     246:83 Federal trial court rules that Americans With Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act, federal statutes prohibiting disability discrimination, apply to state prisons; further holds that Congress abrogated states' Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in federal court in enacting these statutes. Niece v. Fitzner, 941 F.Supp. 1497 (E.D. Mich. 1996).
     251:165 Female deputy's "stress" resulting from working with inmates and from sheriff yelling at her did not constitute a disability; sheriff had no obligation to grant her request for a transfer to another, less stressful, job at the courthouse where she would still be required to work with some inmates. Dewitt v. Carsten, 941 F.Supp. 1232 (N.D. Ga. 1996).
     239:163 Federal appeals court rules that Americans With Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act do not apply to prisoner employment situations. White v. State of Colorado, 82 F.3d 364 (10th Cir. 1996). [Cross-references: Medical Care; Work/Education Programs]. » Editor's Note: Also see Pierce v. King, 918 F.Supp. 932 (E.D.N.C. 1996), holding that the Americans With Disabilities Act did not create a cause of action for state inmates displeased with their prison work assignments.

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