Decided: May 17, 2013
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia.
In his youth, Wilson suffered a detached retina in his right eye causing permanent blindness in that eye. Years later, in September 2009, he began working night shift at one of Dollar General’s distribution centers, processing inventory and loading merchandize for transportation. Unfortunately, in February of 2010, Wilson developed a serious inflammatory condition in his left eye and was diagnosed with Iritis—a medical condition characterized by inflammation of the iris. Initially he was prescribed eye drops, which as a side effect limited his abilities to perform his job by blurring his vision. Following the onset of this medical condition, Wilson took leave from work and underwent treatment. He was granted a total of eight weeks of leave, six weeks pursuant to Dollar General’s medical leave policy plus an additional two weeks. At the conclusion of his treatment, on April 6, 2010, Wilson was again prescribed eye drops and cleared to return to work that night though his vision did not fully return before he was supposed to report to work. As a result, Dollar General granted him an additional day of leave and permitted him to return to work on April 7 however his condition worsened and he was forced to seek additional treatment. After receiving treatment on April 7, Wilson informed his manager that he would be unable to return to work that evening as he had previously indicated. He further indicated that he had additional upcoming medical appointments at Duke Medical Center. At that point, according to Wilson, he was then offered an ultimatum, return to work that evening; or be terminated and reapply after his condition improved. Following his termination, Wilson contacted the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (“EEOC”) and inquired about his option for legal recourse and filed a charge of discrimination. Soon thereafter, he filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. In March of 2011, the EEOC issued Wilson a notice of his right to sue Dollar General and on June 15, 2011, this suit was filed. Wilson alleged Dollar General had unlawfully discriminated against him by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation for his disability, resulting in his discharge, in violation of the American’s with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). In the district court, Dollar General moved for summary judgment, asserting that (1) Wilson lacked standing as a result of his status as a Chapter 13 debtor; and (2) Wilson failed to establish genuine issues of material fact as to his underlying claim. With respect to standing, Dollar General’s motion was denied; however, with respect to the underlying ADA claim, the motion was granted. This appeal followed.
On appeal, the Fourth Circuit first addressed the standing issue and, in conformance with all of other circuit courts that had considered the issue, affirmed the district court, finding that Chapter 13 debtors, unlike Chapter 7 debtors, have standing to bring causes of action in their own name on behalf of the estate. Next, the court addressed the merits of Wilson’s ADA claim that Dollar General discriminated against him by failing to make “reasonable accommodations” for him as required under the ADA. Affirming the district court, the Fourth Circuit found that Wilson was not a “qualified individual” as he was not able to show that “with reasonable accommodation he could perform the essential functions of the position.” In so holding, the court noted that Wilson was not able to identify a possible reasonable accommodation, other than leave, that would have enabled him to perform the essential functions of his position; nor was he able to produce evidence that had he been granted such leave, he could have performed the essential functions of his position on his requested return date.
– W. Ryan Nichols