Court Holds That Arthritis and High Blood Pressure Were Not “Disabilities” Under the ADA

In Telemaque v. Marriott International, No. 14 CIV. 6336 (ER), 2016 WL 406384 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 2, 2016), the court (among other things) dismissed plaintiff’s disability discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act because he failed to plausibly allege that he suffered a “disability” within the meaning of the statute.

Plaintiff’s allegations, in sum:

First, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants discriminated against him because of arthritis in the insteps of both his feet, specifically when they disciplined, suspended, and terminated him for his response time that triggered [a disciplinary warning]. Second, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants refused to provide him with a reasonable accommodation for his high blood pressure, specifically when they refused to postpone the Peer Review meeting set to review the Second Warning.

As the court explained, not every impairment qualifies as a “disability” within the meaning of the ADA. The law:

The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of disability, and defines “disability” to mean “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 12102(1)(A), 12112(a). Satisfying that definition at the motion-to-dismiss stage requires Plaintiff to allege that he suffers from a physical or mental impairment, which “substantially limit[s]” an activity that “constitutes a major life activity under the ADA.” Colwell v. Suffolk Cty. Police Dep’t, 158 F.3d 635, 641 (2d Cir. 1998) (citing Bragdon v. Abbott, 524 U.S. 624, 631 (1998)), superseded on other grounds by 42 U.S.C. § 12102(3)(A); see also Capobianco v. City of New York, 422 F.3d 47, 56 (2d Cir. 2005) (“Not every impairment is a ‘disability’ within the meaning of the ADA; rather, there are two requirements: the impairment must limit a major life activity and the limitation must be substantial.”) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A)). “A ‘major life activity’ is one that is ‘of central importance to daily life,’ including functions such as caring for oneself, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working.” Primmer v. CBS Studios, Inc., 667 F. Supp. 2d 248, 258 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) (quoting Capobianco, 422 F.3d at 56); see also 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(i). To determine whether a major life activity is substantially limited, “a court may look to several factors, including (1) the nature and severity of the impairment, (2) its duration or expected duration, and (3) the existence of any actual or expected permanent or long term impact.”

The court held that plaintiff failed to state a claim for discrimination under the ADA “because he has not set forth allegations plausibly demonstrating that his physical impairments substantially limit a major life activity.” It noted, for example, that “[c]ontrary to work, exercise, like the running, weight-lifting, and rope-jumping identified by Plaintiff, is not even among the examples of major life activities listed in the ADA” and that “[t]he mere fact that Plaintiff takes pain medication, standing alone, also does not adequately allege a substantial limitation on a major life activity.”

The court concluded by permitting plaintiff to amend his complaint, but only in a limited respect:

Here, while it would be futile for Plaintiff to replead his ADA claims based on substantial limitations of his ability to exercise, run, or eat, Plaintiff may be able to set forth viable allegations demonstrating that his arthritis and/or high blood pressure impose substantial limitations on his ability to work and/or sleep. Plaintiff is thus granted leave to replead on those bases only.

Working and sleeping, noted the court, are “major life activities” under the ADA.

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