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Deane v. Pocono Medical Center

April 15, 1998

STACY L. DEANE, APPELLANT
v.
POCONO MEDICAL CENTER



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civ. Action No. 94-1139) Argued: January 31, 1997 Before: BECKER and ROTH, Circuit Judges, and BARRY, District Judge.*fn1 Reargued En Banc: January 29, 1998

Before: Sloviter, Chief Judge, Becker, Stapleton, Mansmann, Greenberg, Scirica, Cowen, Nygaard, Alito, Roth, LEWIS,*fn2 McKEE, and Rendell, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Becker, Chief Judge.*fn3

OPINION OF THE COURT

This is an appeal by Stacy L. Deane from an order of the district court granting summary judgment to her former employer, Pocono Medical Center ("PMC"), on Deane's claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA" or the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 1201 et seq. In enacting the ADA, Congress intended that the scope of the Act would extend not only to those who are actually disabled, but also to individuals wrongly regarded by employers as being disabled. Deane, a registered nurse, sued PMC under the ADA as such a "regarded as" plaintiff to redress PMC's failure to accommodate her in a manner that would enable her to retain her position following a work-related injury that affected her ability to do heavy lifting.*fn4 The case came before the en banc court to settle the question that divided the original panel -- whether "regarded as" plaintiffs, in order to be considered qualified under the ADA, must show that they are able to perform all of the functions of the relevant position or just the essential functions, with or without accommodation. The panel decided that they must be able to perform all of the functions. Before the en banc court, neither party supported that position, and we now reject it, concluding that the plain language of the ADA requires proof only of a plaintiff 's ability to perform a position's essential functions.

This Conclusion forces us to determine whether Deane has adduced sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact with respect to two elements of her prima facie case: (1) whether PMC misperceived Deane as being disabled; and (2) whether Deane is a "qualified individual", a decision that turns on whether lifting is an essential function of nursing at PMC. Because we conclude that Deane has adduced sufficient evidence regarding both of these matters, we hold that summary judgment was inappropriate. Accordingly, the judgment of the district court will be vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings.

The panel addressed a second question of much greater difficulty -- whether "regarded as" plaintiffs must be accommodated by their employers within the meaning of the ADA. It may well be, as two members of the panel concluded, that after the employer is disabused of its improper perception of the individual's disability, there is no reason to afford the individual any special treatment, and hence the employee is not statutorily entitled to accommodation from the employer. However, as resolution of that issue is not necessary to final Disposition of this appeal, we will not decide it.

I.

In April 1990, PMC hired Deane as a registered nurse to work primarily on the medical/surgical floor. On June 22, 1991, while lifting a resistant patient, she sustained a cartilage tear in her right wrist causing her to miss approximately one year of work. In June 1992, Deane and Barbara Manges, a nurse assigned to Deane's workers' compensation case, telephoned PMC and advised Charlene McCool, PMC's Benefits Coordinator, that Deane intended to return to work with certain restrictions. According to Deane, she informed McCool that she was unable to lift more than 15-20 pounds or perform repetitive manual tasks such as typing, but that her physician, Dr. Osterman, had released her to return to "light duty" work.*fn5 Deane further explained to McCool that, if she could not be accommodated in a light duty position on the medical/surgical floor, she was willing to move to another area of the hospital, as long as she could remain in nursing. Unfortunately, this telephone call was PMC's only meaningful interaction with Deane during which it could have assessed the severity of or possible accommodation for her injuries. PMC never requested additional information from Deane or her physicians, and, according to Deane, when she subsequently attempted to contact PMC on several occasions, she was treated rudely by McCool and told not to call again.

After speaking with Deane and Manges, McCool advised Barbara Hann, PMC's Vice President of Human Resources, of Deane's request to return to work, of her attendant work restrictions, and of her stated need for accommodation. Shortly after considering the information conveyed by McCool and after comparing it to the job description of a medical/surgical nurse at PMC, Hann determined that Deane was unable to return to her previous position. Hann then asked Carol Clarke, PMC's Vice President of Nursing, and Susan Stine, PMC's Director of Nursing Resources/ Patient Care Services, to review Deane's request to return to PMC and to explore possible accommodations for her. Both Clarke and Stine concluded that Deane could not be accommodated in her previous job as a nurse on the medical/surgical floor or in any other available position at the hospital. Finally, Hann asked Marie Werkheiser, PMC's Nurse Recruiter, whether there were any current or prospective job openings for registered nurses at PMC. According to Werkheiser, there were no such openings at that time.

As a result of the collective determination that Deane could not be accommodated in her previous job or in any other available position in the hospital, PMC sent Deane an "exit interview" form on August 7, 1992. On August 10, 1992, Hann notified Deane by telephone that she could not return to work because of her "handicap", and this litigation ensued. In March 1993, Deane accepted a registered nurse position at a non-acute care facility, where she remained until May 1993. Deane has been employed by a different non-acute care facility since July 1993. Neither of these positions require heavy lifting, bathing patients, or the like.

Deane argued to the district court that she was both actually disabled as a result of her injury and that she was perceived to be so by PMC. On summary judgment, the court rejected both theories and held that Deane was neither disabled nor regarded by her employer as being disabled and that, even if she were, she failed to meet the statutory definition of a qualified individual with a disability. Deane has not appealed the district court's determination that she was not actually disabled. Indeed, she now concedes that "[i]n light of the decisional trends in this Circuit and others," she is not now and never was disabled and, consequently, that, but for PMC's erroneous perception of her actual impairment, she would have no claim under the ADA.

What is left, then, are Deane's contentions that she was disabled under the terms of the ADA by virtue of the fact that PMC regarded her limitations as being far worse than they actually were, that PMC failed to accommodate her lifting restriction, and that she was eventually terminated on account of PMC's perception that she was disabled. In support of her perception claim, Deane relies on a"laundry list" of PMC's allegedly erroneous perceptions. According to Deane, PMC believed that she was unable to lift more than ten pounds, push or pull anything, assist patients in emergency situations, move or assist patients in the activities of daily living, perform any patient care job at PMC or any other hospital, perform CPR, use the rest of her body to assist patients, work with psychiatric patients, or use medical equipment. Deane refutes each of these perceptions -- or, in her view, misperceptions-- and contends that her injury was, in fact, relatively minor in nature. Deane further contends that PMC should be held responsible for these misperceptions because they were the result of PMC's "snap judgment" arrived at without making a good faith analysis, investigation, or assessment of the nature of her injury.

Finally, Deane maintains that she requires and is entitled to accommodation for her lifting restriction. In this regard, Deane contends that she could be accommodated either in her previous position as a nurse on the medical/surgical floor or through reassignment to another position that would not require heavy lifting. As to the former, Deane has suggested the following accommodations: (1) use of an assistant to help her move or lift patients; (2) implementation of a functional nursing approach, in which nurses would perform only certain types of nursing tasks; and (3) use of a Hoyer lift to move patients. Deane also maintains that she could have been transferred to another unit within the medical center such as the pediatrics, oncology, or nursery units, which would not have required heavy lifting. In the alternative, Deane submits that she can perform the essential functions of her previous job in the medical/surgical floor without accommodation because lifting is not an essential function of nursing. We set forth our jurisdiction and standard of review in the margin.*fn6 II.

The core anti-discrimination section of the ADA provides that:

No covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.

42 U.S.C. § 12112. In order to make out a prima facie case under the ADA, a plaintiff must be able to establish that he or she (1) has a "disability" (2) is a "qualified individual" and (3) has suffered an adverse employment action because of that disability. See Gaul v. Lucent Techs. Inc., 134 F.3d 576, 580 (3d Cir. 1998).

A.

Turning to the first prong of the prima facie case, we must determine whether Deane is disabled under the terms of the Act. ...


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