In an unpublished opinion, the 3d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court’s determination that an associate professor’s termination was appropriate, even though the professor claimed that he was disabled by agoraphobia.  Lloyd v. Washington & Jefferson College, 3d Circ., No. 07-2907, June 11, 2008.

Karl Brett Lloyd became an Associate Professor in the Information Technology Leadership (ITL) Department of Washington & Jefferson College in July 2002.  In April 2003, the College instituted a policy that full-time faculty members were to be “on campus a minimum of four days per week, for at least four hours per day.”  However, Lloyd was permitted to spend three days a week on campus and to work from home for the rest of the week because of his agoraphobia.  In January 2004, Lloyd took a leave under the FMLA for stress-related medical problems caused, he said, by Dr. Charles Hannon, the Chair of the ITL Department.

Upon his return in February 2004, Lloyd asked for additional accommodation to his schedule, and for certain additional FMLA leave.  At that point, the College agreed to transfer Lloyd to a non-teaching position in the Information Technology Services Department, where he could work three days a week under a different supervisor, at his same salary.  Lloyd was instructed to report for work at 9:00 a.m. on April 5, 2004 to accept the job.  When he failed to report, he was considered to have resigned, and his employment was terminated.  Lloyd ultimately filed suit, claiming violation of the ADA and the FMLA. 

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the College.  The Third Circuit affirmed that decision, addressing each of Lloyd’s four arguments in turn.

First, Lloyd argued that his “record of impairment,” as evidenced in part by his receipt of Social Security Disability benefits, precluded summary judgment on his ADA claim.  The Court pointed out that it cannot regard a medical impairment as a “disability” under the ADA if there is no proof that the impairment substantially limits a major life activity.  Here, Lloyd did not attempt to show how his receipt of benefits established any such limitation; he therefore failed to support his ADA “record of impairment” argument.

Second, Lloyd argued that he was substantially limited in his ability to think and to interact with others.  However, the Court found that argument to be flawed, based on Lloyd’s ability to work and teach for three days a week, as well as to serve as a local borough councilman.  Further, according to the Court, if Lloyd actually had been substantially limited in his ability to think and interact with others, he would not be a qualified person with a disability (able to do the essential functions of the job, with or without accommodation), since such abilities are essential functions for a college professorship.

Lloyd’s third argument — that the College interfered with his exercise of FMLA rights by terminating him – was dismissed by the Court, which found that Lloyd failed to show the “serious health condition” required for an FMLA claim.

Finally, the Court found that Lloyd’s discrimination and retaliation claims failed because Lloyd could not show the requisite “adverse employment action.”  While Lloyd complained that the school improperly discharged him, the facts show that the College made numerous attempts to accommodate Lloyd, including the initial three day per week schedule, and a transfer away from his original supervisor. 

The determinative issue in this case was Lloyd’s inability to support the argument that his agoraphobia created a disability under the ADA, or even a serious health condition for purposes of the FMLA.  That fact, coupled with the College’s participation in the required “interactive process” in the form of its offer of a flexible schedule and transfer to another supervisor, supported the Court’s decision to affirm summary judgment in favor of the employer. 


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