The 4th Circuit Court Held that an Inability to Work Overtime did Not Constitute a Substantial Limitation on a Major Life Activity Under ADA

In Boitnott v. Corning Inc., Michael Boitnott began work with Corning as a maintenance engineer in 1989. Like others at that facility, he worked rotating twelve hour shifts and alternated two weeks of day shifts with two weeks of night shifts. Boitnott suffered heart problems and then was diagnosed with leukemia is 2003, which resulted in significant fatigue. Boitnott advised Corning in February 2004 that he was prepared to return to work, but provided a physician’s statement that he was limited to working no longer than eight hours per day. Because of this restriction, Corning did not allow Boitnott to return to his former position, but after extended negotiations with the union there, did create a new maintenance position in September 2005 for Boitnott that was a fit for him. Boitnott took and continues to work in this position, but filed suit under the ADA for failure to accommodate between February 2004 and September 2005. The district court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss on the basis that Boitnott was not disabled.

The Fourth Circuit affirmed based on the pre-ADAAA definition of disability. The pre-ADAAA regulations stated that for the major life activity of working, the plaintiff must show that the impairment “significantly restricted . . . the ability to perform either a class of jobs or a broad range of jobs in various classes as compared to the average person having comparable training, skills and abilities.” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(3) (before March 24, 2011). All other circuits had held that an employee is not “substantially” limited if he or she can handle a forty hour work week but is incapable of performing overtime due to an impairment. The Court agreed, and thus affirmed because there was no evidence that the eight-hour restriction barred Boitnott from a broad class of jobs. While this result in unsurprising, the more interesting question is whether it would change under the ADAAA. It appears that issue has not been decided by any court, as there is still a dearth of case law on the ADAAA because the statute was not made retroactive.