Court Decisions & Disability Issues Briefs
A project of the Southeast ADA Center and Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University

Wofsy v. Palm Shores Retirement Community

Middle District Court of Florida
No. 8:07-cv-98-T-30TGW, 2008 WL 151892
January 15, 2008

Facts of the Case

Mr. Edward Wofsy was employed by Palm Shores Retirement Community ("Palm Shores") as a bus driver, responsible for driving Palm Shores retirees to and from doctor appointments and recreational outings. In 2004, after two years of solid job performance, Mr. Wofsy presented his Palm Shores supervisor, Ms. Shelly Streetman, with a note from his doctor explaining he had asthma. The note further instructed Ms. Streetman that Mr. Wofsy might require reasonable accommodations at times to help him with his breathing condition. Ms. Streetman asked Mr. Wofsy to provide specific examples of his functional limitations. For example, Ms. Streetman wondered if Mr. Wofsy's asthma would restrict his ability to move and bend or drive long distances. Additionally, Ms. Streetman wanted to know the extent to which medication could correct Mr. Wofsy's condition. In response, Mr. Wofsy provided a second letter from his doctor stating Mr. Wofsy's asthma was "severe" and suggested that "it is in [Mr. Wofsy's] best interest that he be limited to an area familiar to him."

In August 2005, Palm Shores acquired a new, larger bus for resident transport. Due to the larger size of the bus, all Palm Shores bus drivers were required to obtain a Commercial Drivers License (CDL) and to drive residents longer distances. Mr. Wofsy indicated to Ms. Streetman that he did not intend to obtain a CDL, and would not be available to drive longer distances. Ms. Streetman explained that she would need to hire a CDL driver to operate the new bus and did not know how this would affect Mr. Wofsy's position or hours. Mr. Wofsy offered to work the front desk to retain his full-time hours and benefits.

On August 26, 2005, Ms. Streetman presented Mr. Wofsy with a medical questionnaire for his physician, seeking to clarify his physical limitations and work restrictions. Mr. Wofsy declined to return the questionnaire, stating that he did not think it was necessary and he wanted to do his "old job." On October 1, 2005 Palm Shores moved Mr. Wofsy from a full-time to part-time schedule. Then, on November 18, 2005 Palm Shores again offered Mr. Wofsy a full-time CDL position. He purported to accept the position without indicating he would obtain a CDL, and if "limited to the St. Pete area." On November 21, 2005, Palm Shores notified Mr. Wofsy that due to his noncompliance with Palm Shores' driver requirements, he would be maintained only on an "as-needed" basis. Mr. Wofsy alleged that this notification was a material adverse change in employment resulting from Palm Shores' discriminatory actions, and in violation of ADA Title I.

Issues of the Case

  1. Whether Palm Shores is entitled to summary judgment on Mr. Wofsy's claims of discrimination and retaliation.
  2. Namely, whether Mr. Wofsy established that he was a qualified individual with a disability and subsequently was discriminated against on the basis of that disability.
  3. Whether Palm Shores illegally retaliated against Mr. Wofsy after his request for accommodations.

Arguments & Analysis

1. Mr. Wofsy asserted his asthma was a physical disability that substantially limited his ability to breathe and to work.

He claimed he had a ten-year history of asthma commonly triggered by tobacco smoke, air pollution, excitement and emotional stress. He also asserted that medication only reduced the number of asthma attacks he experienced to 15 per week.

2. Palm Shores defended its actions, arguing that it had granted Mr. Wofsy's accommodation request but that Mr. Wofsy did not provide medical documentation to clarify the accommodations he required.

Further, Palm Shores argued that his failure to comply with requirements of the driver position, by not obtaining a CDL after agreeing to do so, constituted a legitimate and nondiscriminatory reason for demoting Mr. Wofsy.

Rulings

ADA Discrimination

The court concluded Mr. Wofsy failed to show he was a qualified individual with a disability and that he was discriminated against on the basis of his asthma. Evidence from Mr. Wofsy's doctor and from the Palm Shores director, demonstrated that Mr. Wofsy's asthma did not prevent him from performing his daily job responsibilities. The court reasoned the evidence established that Mr. Wofsy did not prove his asthma condition constituted a disability that substantially limited a major life activity. The court explained that even had Mr. Wofsy demonstrated he had a "disability" for purposes of the ADA, his claim would fail because he did not prove he was discriminated against. Rather, Palm Shores was justified in their actions because Mr. Wofsy failed to meet the requirements of the job; specifically Mr. Wofsy failed to obtain a CDL and asserted an unwillingness to travel outside a limited area. Thus, the court ruled that the rejection of Mr. Wofsy's demand was not motivated by discriminatory intent.

Retaliation

The court held that Mr. Wofsy failed to demonstrate the change in his employment constituted unlawful retaliation. In order to prove such unlawful activity, Mr. Wofsy had to show that there was a causal link between the statutorily protected action and the adverse employment action. Mr. Wofsy's evidence of causation rested on the close temporal relationship between the date he requested accommodations and the date his employment status changed to part-time. The court held that this was not a sufficient causal link, because Mr. Wofsy was notified that his refusal to accept the new driver position would result in a change to his employment status. Thus, absent other evidence of causation, Mr. Wofsy's claim of retaliation failed.

Even if Mr. Wofsy had established a prima facie case of retaliation, the court explained that his claim would have failed because Palm Springs established a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the change in Mr. Wofsy's employment. Additionally, Mr. Wofsy did not present evidence that would prove the Palm Springs' creation of a new driver position was a pretext for discrimination.

Thus, the court granted Palm Shore's motion for summary judgment, denying all of Mr. Wofsy's claims.

Policy & Practice

Episodic Conditions

The court has found that asthma and similar episodic conditions that can be treated with readily available medications do not constitute "disabilities" under the ADA. In order for the plaintiff to demonstrate that such a condition substantially limits a major life activity, the plaintiff must prove: 1) that the condition is not episodic in nature and 2) that the condition cannot be treated or controlled with readily available medication. In the instant case, Mr. Wofsy failed to present evidence of either requirement.

Retaliation Causality

One of the three prongs of establishing a case of retaliation under the ADA is a "causal link between the protected expression and the adverse action." The court, in part, relied on the Supreme Court's decision in Clark County School District v. Breeden (2001), where the Court held that mere temporal proximity between a protected activity and an adverse employment action must be "very close" to establish causality. The court in this case admitted the "very close" temporal proximity between Mr. Wofsy's employment status and his request for accommodations. Nonetheless, the court held that there was no causal link because Mr. Wofsy was offered the position and was notified that his refusal would result in the employment action taken.

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.

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