Court Decisions Brief
A project of the Southeast ADA Center and Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University

Littleton v. Wal-Mart Stores

Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals
No. 05-12770, 2007 WL 1379986
May 11, 2007

Facts of the Case

Mr. Littleton is currently twenty-nine-years-old and at a young age was diagnosed with mental retardation. He applied for a job as a cart pusher, also known as a courtesy associate, at Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart claimed that they did not hire Mr. Littleton because in one of his interviews he stated that he did not like to be around people.

Issues of the Case

  1. In Littleton v. Wal-Mart Stores, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals considered whether Wal-Mart Stores refused to hire Mr. Littleton because of his intellectual disability in violation of the ADA.
  2. The court's decision turned on whether social interaction is a major life activity and whether Mr. Littleton was substantially limited in the major life activities of learning, social interaction, or working.

Rule of Law

To prove discrimination in Wal-Mart's hiring practices Mr. Littleton had to show he i) had a disability, ii) was qualified for the job, and iii) was discriminated against because of his disability. To meet the definition of disability, Littleton had to show he i) had a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, ii) had a record of such, or iii) was regarded as having such an impairment.

Arguments & Analysis

1. Major life activities generally may include caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.

The U.S. Supreme Court has not included thinking, communicating, and social interaction as major life activities; however, some district courts have included them and three circuit courts (1st, 9th, and 10th) have found that social interaction is a major life activity. Littleton asserted he was substantially limited in the major life activities of learning, thinking, communicating, social interaction, and working. Because Mr. Littleton did not raise the limitations of thinking and communicating previously (in district court), the Court of Appeals did not consider whether these limitations qualify as major like activities.

2. The court stated that even though Mr. Littleton is "somewhat limited in his ability to learn because of his mental retardation," as he graduated from high school (with a special education certificate), attended a technical college, and could read and comprehend, he was not substantially limited in the major life activity of learning.

In contrast, when Mr. Littleton's job coach was asked if Mr. Littleton would need any additional coaching due to his disability, the job coach compared his need for further and consistent instruction to that of an eight-year-old learning something for the first time.

3. The court further indicated that, although social interaction is not a major life activity, if it were Mr. Littleton was not substantially limited in this activity because his mother and employment coordinator both testified, "he is very verbal" and would not need a job coach to interact with other co-workers.

4. Finally, the court decided that Mr. Littleton is not substantially limited in the major life activity of working.

This would require Mr. Littleton show he is, "significantly restricted in the ability to perform either a class of jobs or a broad range of jobs as compared to an average personís training, skills, and abilities." However, Mr. Littletonís mother and employment coordinator testified that he could do any job.

5. The court concluded that although Mr. Littleton had an intellectual impairment, he failed to prove the impairment meets the ADA definition of disability.

Consequently, because Mr. Littleton did not prove he has a disability under the ADA the court did not consider whether Wal-Mart's failure to hire him was discrimination.

Rulings

Thus, the Court of Appeals upheld the district court decision granting summary judgment in favor of Wal-Mart Stores.

Conclusion

Mr. Littleton asked the Supreme Court to review his case, and on July 31, 2007, petitioned for a writ of certiorari with a response due August 31, 2007. If the Court grants the writ it will hear the case and request the case record of the lower courts. The writ gives the higher court the ability to review the entire record before hearing oral arguments from the attorneys. However, if the Court decides not to hear the case, then the decision of the circuit court stands.

Disclaimer:

These materials do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon in any individual case. Please consult an attorney licensed in your state for legal advice and/or representation. These materials were prepared by the legal research staff of the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University in partnership with the Southeast ADA Center to highlight legal and policy developments relevant to civil rights protections and the impact of court decisions in the Southeast Region under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These materials are based on federal disability rights laws and court decisions in effect at the time of publication. Federal and state disability rights law can change at any time.  In addition, state and local laws and regulations may provide different or additional protections. Materials are intended solely as informal guidance, and are neither a determination of your legal rights nor responsibilities under the ADA or other federal, state, and local laws, nor binding on any agency with enforcement responsibility under the ADA. The accuracy of any information contained herein is not warranted. Any links to external websites are provided as a courtesy and are not intended to nor do they constitute an endorsement of the linked materials.

Southeast ADA Center

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