Ninth Circuit Holds Type 2 Diabetic Was Qualified Individual

The Ninth Circuit avoided deciding whether the ADAAA amendments to the ADA are retroactive by holding that a type-2 diabetic had a disability and was a qualified individual under the original ADA.

Larry Rohr was a welder metallurgy specialist for Salt River Project Ag. Improvement and Power District, a political subdivision of the Arizona state government. He developed type-2 diabetes. His doctors imposed a number of restrictions on his diet and prescribed medication. The timing and management of his blood sugar testing, eating, and administration of medication resulted in a number of restrictions. Additionally, because of his medical condition, he was susceptible to a number of symptoms.

At times, Rohr was assigned to work in the field and out of town trips. His doctors, and the company's imposed a number of restrictions on his work, which included extended travel. Ultimately, the company concluded he could not perform his essential job functions and gave him the opportunity to transfer to another job or take early retirement. He sued for disability discrimination under the ADA. The district court granted summary judgment, holding he was not an individual with a "disability" and that he was not "qualified"

The Ninth Circuit disagreed. The opinion discusses at length the limitations on Rohr's ability to eat, including scheduling his meals, eating at certain times, and adjusting medication for food, testing and exercise. The court said not all diabetics are substantially limited, but that Rohr had a number of challenges that seem common to many with the condition. So, particularly under the new ADAAA amendments, it will be nearly impossible to argue diabetes is not a disability after this opinion.

The court then tackled whether Rohr was "qualified" in that he could perform his essential job functions with or without accommodation. Salt River argued Rohr could not pass a respirator test per OSHA standards. The court found a triable issue of fact because: the test was not required by OSHA, Salt River did not consider other testing methods, and the use of a respirator may not have been "necessary" to the job.

The court rather summarily found the parties' disputed whether aspects of Rohr's job were "essential" including the need to travel extensively.

The court also decided that the ADAAA amendments would have lent further support to the conclusion that summary judgment should be reversed. However, the court declined to rule that the amendments applied to Rohr's case, which was filed long before the president signed the 2008 amendments into law. The court's comments on the ADAAA, all dicta, portend tough sledding for employers seeking to challenge whether someone has a "disability" under the new framework.

The deicsion is Rohr v. Salt River Project and the opinion is here.