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Court Rejects Hospital’s ADA Argument That Proves Too Much

By September 11, 2014 Employment Law No Comments

Mae West memorably said, “Too much of a good thing can be . . . wonderful.” But last Thursday a federal court rejected a hospital’s ADA defense in part because it proves too much.

Dr. Robinson is an obstetrician at St. Francis Hospital. A diabetic, he underwent surgery for a broken foot and can’t always remain standing throughout deliveries. So he uses a rolling stool and practices from a seated position. Nurses hold the newborns when necessary.

The hospital medical staff suspended Dr. Robinson’s privileges and began an investigation to determine whether he’s still competent when he can’t always remain standing and therefore can’t always see the entire surgical field during procedures.

Dr. Robinson sued under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. That’s the title that requires a “place of public accommodation” to reasonably accommodate a person with a disability. As he sees it, St. Francis is a “public accommodation”; he has a disability; and providing a rolling chair and nurses to hold the newborns is a “reasonable” accommodation.

Why didn’t Dr. Robinson sue under Title I rather than III? Because Title I is for employees, and his relationship with the hospital is the traditional one: nonemployee membership on the medical staff.

The hospital moved to dismiss, arguing that while a hospital is a place of public accommodation for patients, it isn’t for physicians. Patients are the public, but medical staff members aren’t. The federal magistrate agreed and recommended that the court grant the motion to dismiss.

The court rejected the recommendation. As the court saw it, the intent of the ADA is to protect as many people as possible. Title III isn’t limited to clients and customers. And the legislative history shows a particular concern for health facilities.

Besides, the court reasoned, the hospital’s argument would leave medical staff members totally unprotected by the ADA—not covered by Title I because they aren’t employees and not covered by Title III because they aren’t clients or customers. That’s an argument that proves too much.

The case is Robinson v. Carealliance Health, 2014 BL 245502, No. 2:13-cv-1916 (D.S.C. 2014).