Magazine article HRMagazine

Unmedicated Employee 'Disabled' under ADA

Magazine article HRMagazine

Unmedicated Employee 'Disabled' under ADA

Article excerpt

Carter v. Pathfinder Energy Services Inc., 10th Cir., No. 10-8112 (Nov. 3, 2011).

An employee who failed to take medication for diabetes could still be considered disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), where the condition would have substantially affected a major life activity even if the medication had been taken, according to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Dennis Carter was a directional driller at Pathfinder Energy Services Inc. in Wyoming, where he worked long shifts drilling oil wells. Carter's employment with Pathfinder began in December 2004, after he had been diagnosed with diabetes. Carter's first 20 months on the job passed "smoothly"; during that time, he controlled his diabetes primarily through diet and exercise. He took oral medication irregularly.

In October 2006, Carter's health deteriorated to the point where he could no longer work full time, so Pathfinder reduced his workload from two 10- to 12-day job assignments per month to one. By November 2006, Carter's health had declined such that his friends had to help him prepare his food, get dressed, feed his pets, do laundry, shop for groceries and shower. However, his reduced workload allowed Carter to continue to work full 24-hour shifts while on the job.

As Carter was finishing up a 10-day job assignment, Rich Arnold, his supervisor, called Carter and asked him immediately to go work another job. Carter explained that he needed time off to recover before starting a new assignment. But, not wanting to let his co-worker down, he replied, "Well, Rich, I'll f-ing go" and hung up the phone. Upon arriving at the new job site, Carter went to sleep in an overnight room. When his bunkmate became upset that Carter had taken the lower bunk, Carter told him, "It don't make a f - to me." Carter then took the upper bunk without further incident.

On Dec. 27, 2006, Arnold fired Carter for gross misconduct based on Carter's altercation with his co-worker, his use of the expletive and his abruptness in hanging up the telephone on Arnold. Carter mentioned to Arnold that he was probably "grouchy" because his "diabetes was out of control at the time."

Carter sued Pathfinder, claiming that his termination violated the ADA. The trial court dismissed the case, holding that Carter was not disabled under the act because "medication-controlled or diet-controlled diabetes is not a substantially limiting condition. …

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