Law School Case Brief
Shafer v. Preston Mem'l Hosp. Corp. - 107 F.3d 274 (4th Cir. 1997)
Under the plain meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C.S. § 12101 et seq., and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C.S. § 701 et seq., an employee illegally using drugs in a periodic fashion during the weeks and months prior to discharge is currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs.
Defendant-appellee Preston Memorial Hospital’s personnel director, defendant-appellee Victoria Adams, confronted plaintiff-appellant nurse, Deborah Shafer, about irregularities in her handling of a narcotic. Shafer admitted that she was addicted to the narcotic and went into rehabilitation. The hospital terminated her employment. Shafer argued that her addiction was a disability and that the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C.S. § 12101 et seq., the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C.S. § 701 et seq., and the West Virginia Human Rights Act, W. Va. Code § 5-11-1 et seq., prohibited the hospital from discriminating against her. Shafer appealed the district court's order granting summary judgment for Preston Memorial Hospital and Victoria Adams.
Was plaintiff nurse Schafer, who was terminated due to her "current" drug use, protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, thereby rendering the district court’s order of summary judgment for defendant hospital erroneous?
The Circuit Court of Appeals explained that the dispute centered on the scope of the phrase "currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs;" notably, Congress did not define "current" or "currently" under either the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act. The court found that the legislative history made plain Congress's intent that the broader meaning of "currently" apply, rather than the narrow defintion proposed by Shafer. Legislative history revealed that Congress intended to exclude from statutory protection an employee who illegally uses drugs during the weeks and months prior to her discharge, even if the employee was participating in a drug rehabilitation program and was drug-free on the day she is fired. The court found that Shafer was "currently" addicted at the time of her termination even though she had gone into rehabilitation. Affirming, the court concluded that summary judgment was appropriate because Shafer was not protected under the acts where her addiction was recent. Shafer’s request to amend her complaint was properly denied as futile. Further, she was precluded from arguing that inadequate discovery made summary judgment inappropriate because she did not submit an affidavit informing the district court that additional discovery was necessary for her to respond to the hospital's summary judgment motion.
Regarding the applicable standards of review: The appellate court reviews a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. The appellate court reviews the district court's refusal to allow an appellant to amend her complaint for abuse of discretion. Similarly, the appellate court reviews the district court's rulings on discovery matters for abuse of discretion.
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