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No ADA Protection for Employee Who Could Not Work in Plant

Raymond Carr alleged his former employer, U.S. Steel Corporation (Steel), denied him reasonable accommodation for his disability and constructively discharged him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Carr suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which caused breathing difficulties and other respiratory issues. He initially worked for Steel on its “hot side” making steel. The company shut down that part of the factory and laid him off. Steel hired him some months later as an independent contractor in the “quench and tamper” area where he wore a respirator because of the dust. In 2017, Steel brought Carr back to work at the pipe mill as an oiler-stamper in the “finishing and shipping” area of the pipe mill. He was stationed in an area with a varnish pool for soaking pipes and a spray-painting station. The fumes made him dizzy, disoriented, and short of breath. He notified Steel about his breathing issues; a medical center staff instructed Carr to leave the plant and follow up with his doctor. When Carr finally obtained a medical note from a pulmonologist’s office, the note said his symptoms prevented him from working around chemicals, fumes, dust, and vapors. The company met with him and determined that Steel had no place for him to work away from the fumes. He could “continue drawing sickness and accident pay or retire.” He drew sick pay until he retired later that year.

The federal magistrate reviewing the case concluded that Carr’s COPD did not qualify as a disability under the ADA. “An impairment does not substantially limit the ability to work merely because it prevents a person from performing either a particular specialized job or a narrow range of jobs.” Carr’s inability to working around chemicals or fumes applied to a narrow range of jobs, according to the court. Carr went on to work for several other companies following his retirement. Moreover, the court found Carr did not have a substantial limitation in the major life activity of “breathing.” When not around chemicals and fumes, Carr experienced only intermittent issues that he could successfully treat with an inhaler. The court ruled Carr was not a “qualified” individual under the ADA. He could not perform the essential functions of any position in the plant because he would be exposed to chemical and fumes.