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In this time of corporate downsizing, the employees continuing in their jobs are inevitably asked to do “more with less.” That is, target numbers are higher, support staff is less and stress is sure to follow. In Carroll v. Xerox Corp., No. 01-2013 (1st Cir. 2002), the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals addressed the question of whether Francis Carroll’s job-related stress was a “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act. DOWNSIZING In 1995, Carroll was a sales manager for Xerox working in Boston. While Xerox was downsizing other managers at his level, Carroll survived. When his support personnel left the company, however, they were not replaced. As Carroll was losing his administrative support, Xerox was increasing his target sales figures by almost 100 percent. Caught between heightened expectations and diminished support, Carroll began to miss sales targets while complaining about his workload and job pressure. This reached a point where, in July 1995, he requested early retirement from the company, which was denied. A few months later, Carroll went to a Boston emergency room complaining of chest pains. Carroll’s doctor concluded that the chest pains are “probably … stress related … he reported extreme work stress which was the likely cause of the chest pain and in middle-aged men is a very common cause of hypertension and hypertensive response to exercise.” REQUEST FOR “ACCOMMODATIONS”? Although there were no medical repercussions of this condition, Carroll took a three-month disability leave, during which time a fellow manager successfully covered his sales territory. Finally, while out on leave, Carroll sought a transfer to the Houston office to be closer to family. The open position in Houston was that of a sales representative at a lower salary. Carroll stated that he understood this, interviewed for the position and transferred south. He worked for two more years as a sales representative and retired in May 1998. While working in Houston, Carroll sued Xerox, claiming that the Company failed to reasonably accommodate his disability by either (a) reducing his workload in Boston or (b) transferring him to the sales representative position in Houston at the same salary he had been earning in Boston. He also claimed that he had been discriminated against by Xerox’s denial of his early retirement request. The District Court granted summary judgment on the grounds that Carroll had failed to demonstrate that he was a “qualified individual with a disability” and Carroll appealed. Simply put, the 1st Circuit found that Carroll’s stress-related chest pain did not substantially limit the major life activity of “working.” CLAIM OF STRESS WAS JOB SPECIFIC The court found that “at best, the record indicates that Carroll could not handle the workload associated with his particular position at a particular period in time … in Xerox’s New England office. That is not enough.” This case highlights that, when an employee seeks to prove that he or she is disabled from the major life activity of working, the court will look to whether the employee is significantly restricted in his or her ability to perform “a class of jobs” or “a broad range of jobs in various classes.” The court found that not only did Carroll fail to show that he was “unable to perform any job other than his own … job with the particular sales targets and workloads that existed in 1995,” but his continued work for Xerox (albeit in Houston) showed clearly that there were other jobs that he could perform. The court also found that whatever the basis for his leave was in 1995, the impairment ended in January 1996. He could not, therefore, make the requisite showing that the impairment was “permanent or long term.” UNABLE TO SHOW A “BROAD RANGE OF JOBS” It is important to note that while Carroll’s stress may well have been real, and his muscle spasms painful, his condition was mild. Courts would be overwhelmed if every stress-related headache or muscle spasm related to tension in the workplace required the employer to accommodate the employee by reducing his or her workload. Instead, courts keep the bar high in defining “disabilities” in the workplace, particularly when the employee claims to be limited in the major life activity of “working.” This is particularly so when the employee claims to be disabled because of stress in the workplace — since it is almost always the circumstances of the particular job (workload, expectations, a supervisor, etc.) that cause the stress. Thus, the more job-specific the cause of the stress, the harder it will be to show that the disability affects a “broad range of jobs.” Sidney R. Steinberg is a shareholder in the business law and litigation department of Post & Schell, www.postschell.com. He concentrates his national litigation and consulting practice in the field of employment and employee relations law and may be reached at [email protected].

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