WASHINGTON – A federal court said a former Home Depot worker cannot claim protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act for chronic sinus problems because he did not prove that they prevented him from working.
Former Greenbelt resident Gary Rose had sued Home Depot, charging that the company failed to accommodate his disability — chronic sinus infections, congestion and headaches — by transferring him to a store better suited to his condition.
But U.S. District Judge Andre Davis threw out the 2000 civil suit last week, arguing that he had not been actually diagnosed with vasomotor rhinitis and questioning whether Rose “even suffered from the condition at all.”
“Rose’s failure to take the proper measures to gain a proper diagnosis necessary to a proper treatment plan is the legal equivalent of a refusal to avail oneself of proper treatment,” Davis wrote.
Rose’s attorney said the opinion could be “devastating” to people with disabilities.
“We’re not asking for special favors,” said Mary Ann Ryan, the attorney. “We’re just trying to keep him working.”
Rose was hired by Home Depot in 1995 to work in its Oxon Hill store and was later promoted to a supervisory position. But in 1998, he requested, and received, a transfer to a non-supervisory position in the Glen Burnie store because the supervisor’s job in Oxon Hill was proving too stressful.
It was in the Glen Burnie store that he said dust, heat and poor air quality during a 1999 inventory caused such severe headaches and sinus problems that it was difficult for him to work. The problems escalated until he was forced to take off work.
He also began seeking a transfer to a store in Winchester, Va. Rose said his condition improved overall when he spent time at his family’s home in the West Virginia mountains and he thought a transfer to Winchester would help.
Rose contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in early 2000, claiming his rhinitis symptoms and subsequent “panic attacks” prevented him from working at all. In August 2000, the EEOC determined that Rose qualified as an individual with a disability and provided him with a “right to sue” letter.
After the EEOC complaint was filed, Home Depot offered Rose a job in Winchester, saying “miscommunication” had delayed the transfer before then. Rose declined the job, as well as an offer of back pay. In July 2000, he was fired.
Davis ruled in favor of Home Depot, noting that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that temporary medical conditions are not disabilities, even if they require extended absences from work. The appellate court has said that ailments which temporarily limit an individual’s ability to work would “‘trivialize (the) lofty objective'” of the ADA.
The 4th Circuit has also ruled that treatable conditions, such as asthma, do not qualify as disabilities.
Davis noted that Rose had not stopped smoking, which impeded a proper diagnosis of his condition, and had not consistently taken the medications prescribed by doctors, which impeded his treatment. He also said that Rose did not take advantage of surgical options, and refused to consider that his headaches could be from other causes such as migraines.
Ryan said the ruling could prevent deserving workers from filing claims under the ADA. “The ADA is supposed to help people keep their jobs,” she said.
But Home Depot attorney Robert Duston said the hardware chain remains ready to rehire Rose if he asks.