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United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
November 22, 1993, Decided
[*20] SELYA, Circuit Judge. This pathbreaking "perceived disability" case presents a textbook illustration of the need for, and the operation of, the prohibition against handicap discrimination contained in section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (1993 Supp.). Concluding, as we do, that plaintiff's proof satisfied the burdens articulated by the district court in its jury instructions, we uphold the denial of defendant's various post-trial motions and affirm the [**2] judgment below.
At the times material hereto, defendant-appellant Department of Mental Health, Retardation, and Hospitals (MHRH), a subdivision of the Rhode Island state government, operated the Ladd Center as a residential facility for retarded persons. Plaintiff-appellee Bonnie Cook worked at Ladd as an institutional attendant for the mentally retarded (IA-MR) from 1978 to 1980, and again from 1981 to 1986. Both times she departed voluntarily, leaving behind a spotless work record. The defendant concedes that Cook's past performance met its legitimate expectations.
In 1988, when plaintiff reapplied for the identical position, she stood 5'2" tall and weighed over 320 pounds. During the routine pre-hire physical, a nurse employed by MHRH concluded that plaintiff was morbidly obese 2 but found no limitations that impinged [*21] upon her ability to do the job. Notwithstanding that plaintiff passed the physical examination, MHRH balked. It claimed that Cook's morbid obesity compromised her ability to evacuate patients in case of an emergency and put her at greater risk of developing serious ailments (a "fact" that MHRH's hierarchs speculated would promote absenteeism and [**3] increase the likelihood of workers' compensation claims). Consequently, MHRH refused to hire plaintiff for a vacant IA-MR position.
Cook did not go quietly into this dark night. Invoking section 504, she sued MHRH in federal district court. 3 MHRH moved to dismiss the complaint, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), averring that morbid obesity can never constitute a handicap within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act. The district court denied the motion. See Cook v. Rhode Island, 783 F. Supp. 1569 (D.R.I. 1992). Pretrial discovery followed.
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10 F.3d 17 *; 1993 U.S. App. LEXIS 30060 **; 63 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P42,673; 2 Am. Disabilities Cas. (BNA) 1476
BONNIE COOK, Plaintiff, Appellee, v. STATE OF RHODE ISLAND, DEPARTMENT OF MENTAL HEALTH, RETARDATION, AND HOSPITALS, Defendant, Appellant.
Prior History: [**1] APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF RHODE ISLAND. Hon. Ernest C. Torres, U.S. District Judge.
impairment, disability, obesity, handicap, morbid, major life activity, substantial limitation, district court, refuse to hire, regulations, mutability, conditions, mental impairment, dysfunction, limitations, metabolic, disease
Civil Procedure, Appeals, Reviewability of Lower Court Decisions, General Overview, Business & Corporate Compliance, Discrimination, Disability Discrimination, Federal & State Interrelationships, Public Health & Welfare Law, Advocacy & Protection, Rehabilitation Act, Disabled & Elderly Persons, Labor & Employment Law, Scope & Definitions