Driving as a ‘Major Life Activity’ Rejected

By James Denis

Jun. 2, 2009

Marsalette Winsley worked as a nurse for Cook County, Illinois, from 2001 until she resigned in October 2007. Due to her involvement in a car accident, Winsley’s psychiatrist diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder, and beginning in April 2004, she took a series of medical leaves of absence for that condition. In April 2005, Winsley provided the county with a letter from her doctor, stating that she could return only if she did not have to drive during the workday. Winsley’s job required her to visit clients, and thus it was necessary that she drive. The county agreed to reassign Winsley closer to home if her doctor cleared her to do two hours of driving per day. After eight weeks of a regimen that altered Winsley’s position to exclude driving, she received a performance review rating her unsatisfactory in attendance and timeliness.

Winsley sued the county in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleging the county had discriminated against her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The district court dismissed Winsley’s claims on summary judgment. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit agreed with the district court’s decision that Winsley had no ADA-protected disability because she was not substantially limited in a major life activity.

The 7th Circuit ruled although the EEOC’s list of major life activities “does not purport to be exclusive, the items on the list have several things in common with each other that driving does not share with them,” and that driving is not so important to everyday life that anyone would consider himself limited if he could not drive. If Winsley’s limited ability to drive impaired her ability to work, she might be covered under the ADA. Winsley v. Cook County, 7th Cir., No. 08-2339 (4/22/09).

Impact: Employers are advised to engage in an interactive process with employees seeking job accommodation. Although the inability to drive is not a major life activity, it could create a disability if it caused an impairment of a major life activity like “caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, learning and working.”

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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