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A worker who is not disabled, but claims she was “regarded as” disabled cannot sue over an employer’s refusal to provide reasonable accommodations since she was never entitled to them in the first place, a federal judge has ruled. In his eight-page opinion in Danyluk-Coyle v. St. Mary’s Medical Center, Senior U.S. District Judge Charles R. Weiner dismissed a suit brought by a nurse who claimed that after she broke her ankle, the hospital violated her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to the suit, Linda Danyluk-Coyle had worked as a nurse at St. Mary’s for more than 10 years when she fractured her ankle in August 1999. Although she reported to work on crutches, she was unable to do her job. The suit says Danyluk-Coyle applied for short-term disability benefits, but the hospital denied the claim and refused to allow her to work. Four months after her injury, Danyluk-Coyle returned to work without any restrictions. In the suit, Danyluk-Coyle claims that during the four months of recovery, she met the ADA’s definition of a “qualified individual with a disability.” But Judge Weiner flatly rejected the claim, saying, “temporary, non-chronic injuries, with little or no long-term impact, such as fractures, simply do not rise to the level of a disability within the definition of the ADA.” Turning to Danyluk-Coyle’s allegation that she was “regarded as” disabled, Weiner found that the claim was flawed since it hinged on a demand for a reasonable accommodation. Danyluk-Coyle’s lawyer, Timothy M. Kolman, argued that Danyluk-Coyle was regarded as disabled during her period of recuperation and that the hospital discriminated against her by not allowing her to work in a pre-admission testing unit. As a result, Kolman argued, Danyluk-Coyle was forced to exhaust her available leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act and therefore was not eligible to resume her former position when she returned to work. St. Mary’s lawyer, Sidney R. Steinberg of Philadelphia-based Post & Schell, argued that a plaintiff who is “regarded as” disabled is not entitled to an accommodation. Judge Weiner agreed, saying several courts, including the 8th Circuit, have held that “non-disabled employees perceived as disabled by their employers are not entitled to reasonable accommodations under the ADA.” Although the 3rd Circuit has never squarely addressed the issue, Weiner found that dicta in Deane v. Pocono Medical Center strongly suggests that it will follow the 8th Circuit’s lead if it ever takes up the question. In Deane, the 3rd Circuit found that allowing a regarded-as-disabled plaintiff to sue over denial of reasonable accommodations would “permit healthy employees to, through litigation (or the threat of litigation) demand changes in their work environments under the guise of ‘reasonable accommodations’ for disabilities based upon misperceptions.” Such a ruling would also “create a windfall for legitimate ‘regarded as’ disabled employees who, after disabusing their employers of their misconceptions, would nonetheless be entitled to accommodations that their similarly situated co-workers are not, for admittedly non-disabling conditions,” the Deane court wrote. Applying that rule to Danyluk-Coyle’s claim, Weiner found that it was fatal to her case and that St. Mary’s was therefore entitled to summary judgment.

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