sets a high bar for showing an individual is disabled as that term is used in the ADA, it does not mean that no individuals can meet the standard. In Emory v. Astrazeneca Pharmaceuticals LP
(3rd Cir. 3/11/05) [pdf], the appellate court found one where the trial court had not. After 25 years as a custodian, plaintiff had never ceased trying to move up and it was his efforts and lack of success in doing so that led to his disability discrimination claim.
Since the employer was able to establish to the trial court's satisfaction that plaintiff was not disabled, issues of reasonable accommodation are not discussed. What is were the limitations that plaintiff faced in his daily life:
Emory cannot tie his shoes or a tie, roll his sleeves, close buttons, or put on a belt. In addition, among other tasks, he is unable to cut his fingernails or toenails, screw
the top on a toothpaste tube, cut his own meat, open a jar, pull heavy dishes and pans in or out of the oven, change diapers, carry his children up the stairs, hold a pen or pencil in his right hand, or perform certain basic household chores and repairs.
Emory also was hampered in learning, the Court noting that:
[His] math, reading and cognitive skills are far below those possessed by average persons in the general population – test results reveal poor calculation and computational abilities, literacy skills which place him in the bottom of the first percentile according to one test, and a deficient learning curve.
The EEOC filed an amicus brief saying basically, if Emory is not covered by the ADA, no one is.
The trial court seemed largely impressed by what Emory had accomplished notwithstanding his disability. Among his accomplishments (in addition to 25 years employment) was being a member of a voluntary fire department, being a mediator in a local justice program, active membership in the Shriners including developing his own character, Stumbles the Clown for performances, and starting his own small part-time cleaning business.
The real key to the decision reversing the summary judgment was what the trial court's focus:
The focus is not on whether the individual has the courage to participate in the major life activity despite [his] impairment, but, rather, on whether [he] faces significant obstacles when [he] does so.
Simply put, the issue is not what he had accomplished but the hurdles he had to overcome to do so. Pretty hard to argue with either the Court or the EEOC's view on this one.