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Weyer v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

May 7, 1999, Argued and Submitted, Seattle, Washington ; January 3, 2000, Filed

No. 98-35215

Opinion

 [*1107]  KLEINFELD, Circuit Judge:

This case concerns whether an employer and its insurance [**2]  administrator can offer a group disability insurance policy as a fringe benefit that gives more benefits for physical disabilities than for mental disabilities, without violating the Americans with Disabilities Act or related Washington statutes.

I. Facts

Helen Weyer worked for Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation ("Fox") as an Administrative Coordinator. As one of its fringe benefits, Fox offered Weyer and the rest of its employees the chance to buy a favorable group long-term disability insurance policy administered by UNUM Life Insurance Company of America ("UNUM"). Weyer chose to buy the policy. Although she paid for the premiums herself, she paid a discounted group rate rather than a substantially higher individual policy rate. In addition, because Weyer enrolled in the group policy, she did not have to take the standard physical exam for individual policies.

Under the policy, individuals who were disabled because of mental illness, alcoholism, or drug abuse could only get benefits for twenty-four months. 1 Individuals with  [*1108]  physical disabilities were not subject to the same limitation and could get benefits until age 65.

 [**3]  In March 1994, Weyer became unable to work because of severe depression. She was totally disabled and has remained so during all times relevant to this lawsuit. Because of her disability, Weyer quit working at Fox and got benefits under the policy for two years. In March 1996, Weyer stopped getting benefits because her disability from depression, which was considered a mental illness, was subject to the twenty-four month limitation.

When Fox chose the UNUM policy, UNUM had another policy that did not contain the twenty-four month limit. The policy without the limit, however, was rare in the industry and more expensive because of the increased risk. Though the employees, not Fox, paid the premiums, Fox sought to avoid expensive plan features that would make the policy less desirable as a fringe benefit, by deterring healthy employees from buying the group policy.

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198 F.3d 1104 *; 2000 U.S. App. LEXIS 11 **; 2000 Cal. Daily Op. Service 63; 2000 Daily Journal DAR 95; 24 Employee Benefits Cas. (BNA) 1393; 10 Am. Disabilities Cas. (BNA) 65

HELEN WEYER, WILLIAM WEYER, and the marital community composed thereof, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX FILM CORPORATION, a Delaware corporation doing business in Washington, UNUM LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, a Nevada corporation doing business in Washington, Defendants-Appellees.

Prior History:  [**1]  Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. D.C. No. CV-96-01661-WLD. William L. Dwyer, District Judge, Presiding.

Disposition: AFFIRMED.

CORE TERMS

disability, benefits, qualified individual, Circuits, discriminated, place of public accommodation, essential function, fringe benefit, total disability, former employee, employees, disabled people, reasonable accommodation, public accommodation, employment position, risks, unambiguous, long-term, coverage, offering, entity, physical disability, disability policy, insurance company, mental disability, insurance office, administering, insurance policy, illness, insurer

Civil Procedure, Appeals, Standards of Review, De Novo Review, Summary Judgment Review, General Overview, Standards of Review, Summary Judgment, Entitlement as Matter of Law, Labor & Employment Law, Disability Discrimination, Employment Practices, Business & Corporate Compliance, Labor & Employment Law, Discrimination, Accommodation, Scope & Definitions, Qualified Individuals With Disabilities, Evidence, Burdens of Proof, Employee Burdens of Proof, Insurance Law, Types of Insurance, Disability Insurance, Civil Rights Law, Protection of Disabled Persons, Americans With Disabilities Act, Scope, Covered Entities, Sales of Goods, Title, Creditors & Good Faith Purchasers, Protection of Rights, Contracts Law, Personal Property, Personalty Leases, Accommodations, Types of Contracts, Lease Agreements, Public Accommodations, Industry Practices, Federal Regulations, Americans With Disabilities Act, Benefit Requirements, Insurability, Pensions & Benefits Law, Equal Protection, Disability Discrimination, Claim, Contract & Practice Issues, Group Policies, Coverage Exclusions, Unfair Business Practices, Discrimination, Defenses, Federal & State Interrelationships, Policy Cancellation, Denial & Nonrenewal, Public Facilities, Disability Benefits, Types of Disabilities