Law School Case Brief
EEOC v. E.I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co - 480 F.3d 724 (5th Cir. 2007)
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990's, 42 U.S.C.S. § 12101 et seq., definition of disability includes individuals who are regarded as having such an impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities. 42 U.S.C.S. § 12102(2)(C). A plaintiff is regarded as being disabled if he: (1) has an impairment that is not substantially limiting but which the employer perceives as substantially limiting, (2) has an impairment that is substantially limiting only because of the attitudes of others, or (3) has no impairment but is perceived by the employer as having a substantially limiting impairment.
Laura Barrios began working in 1981 as a lab operator in DuPont's LaPlace, Louisiana, chemical plant. In 1986, she was diagnosed with a number of medical conditions that made it increasingly difficult for her to walk and for which she received continuing medical treatment. A year later, DuPont transferred her to the position of lab clerk, a sedentary job that involved copying and filing. Because of the hazardous nature of the chemical manufacturing process at the plant, DuPont was concerned about Barrios's ability to evacuate safely. DuPont contended that the ability to evacuate during an emergency was required of all employees, and DuPont routinely conducted emergency response drills. After a Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE), DuPont physicians concluded that Barrios should be medically restricted from walking anywhere at the plant. DuPont believed this restriction left her unable to evacuate in event of an emergency. The company placed Barrios on temporary disability for six months and total and permanent disability thereafter. Barrios's attempt to get her job back was rebuffed by Dupont, even though she demonstrated in 2003 that she could walk an evacuation route without assistance. The EEOC filed suit against DuPont in June 2003, alleging that DuPont violated the American Disabilities Act (ADA) by forcing Barrios to undergo the FCE and by discharging her. DuPont responded that Barrios was terminated because the FCE showed she could not safely evacuate the plant on her own during an emergency. A jury found that Barrios was discharged in violation of the ADA and awarded her $91,000 in backpay, $200,000 in frontpay, and $1,000,000 in punitive damages, which the district court reduced to $300,000. The court denied DuPont's post-judgment motions. DuPont appealed, alleging that Barrios was not disabled or "regarded as" disabled under the ADA. DuPont argued that, rather than having regarded Barrios as entirely disabled from the major life activity of walking, it regarded her as having a medical restriction that prevented her from walking at the plant.
Was Barrios disabled or “regarded as” disabled under the American Disabilities Act?
The Court noted that the evidence demonstrated that DuPont did not regard Barrios as restricted from a narrow range of jobs; rather, DuPont regarded Barrios as restricted from all jobs at the plant, because every employment position required walking on the plant site. Moreover, DuPont's perception of Barrios's walking impairment was not limited to the plant - Dupont physicians believed her impairment extended to “home, at work, wherever." Therefore, the Court held that for ADA purposes, DuPont regarded Barrios as substantially limited in the major life activity of walking, and thus, Barrios was regarded as disabled.
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