U.S. Seventh Circuit - The FindLaw 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Firing of Absent Bipolar Doctor Wasn't Discriminatory, 7th Rules

'Physician, heal thyself,' the proverb goes. A recent opinion from the Seventh Circuit provides an important addendum: once you're done, get back to work quickly.

The court recently dismissed an ADA suit by a doctor who failed to get back to work tout suite after taking medical leave to deal with his bipolar disorder. Larry Hooper, M.D., was fired for not returning to work after he had been cleared by a psychiatrist and warned by his employer, Proctor Health Care in Peoria, Illinois.

Medical Leave and Then Some

Dr. Hooper's bipolar disorder was diagnosed in 2000. In order to keep his medical license, he was required to regularly meet with a psychologist. Several years later, he began working at one of Proctor's urgent care facilities. In 2010, Hooper had an altercation with a neighbor and the police -- one which shook him up enough that he felt the need to inform Proctor's Director of Human Resources of his condition and request a medical leave.

After five weeks of leave, Hopper's psychiatrist cleared him to work again. Proctor, however, decided to pursue a second opinion. That doctor agreed that Hopper was ready to return to work. Proctor was informed, orally, that Hopper could return August 4th, but it did not receive a written report until August 19th. Despite the lack of written confirmation, the health care company told Hopper he should return to the job the day after the exam.

Hopper, though, did not. As his mother had recently died, he left town for her funeral and allegedly did not return messages from the company. A letter from Proctor said that if they didn't hear from him by August 20th, they would fire him. They did.

Hopper sued. According to the Seventh Circuit, his complaint "generally alleged" disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. When Proctor moved for summary judgment, Hooper asserted a failure to accommodate claim as well. The district court dismissed it as improperly raised, but the Seventh Circuit found that, proper or not, the claim wouldn't be able to stand.

No Sympathy for the Doc

Hopper wasn't entitled to reasonable accommodations, the court held, since he was capable of doing the work without them. According to the Seventh, "a plaintiff cannot state a failure to accommodate claim if she was able to perform all essential functions of her job without regard to her physical or mental limitations." Hopper had twice been cleared for work despite his bipolar disorder, making him "able to perform all essential functions." While one doctor made recommendations that could reduce Hopper's work stress, those were not accommodations required by the ADA, the Seventh ruled.

Similarly, the Seventh quickly dismissed Hopper's discrimination claims. Hopper failed to show any similarly situated employees who were treated differently than he was. Further, he could not demonstrate any discriminatory animus by Proctor. He should have, it seems, just returned to work.

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