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Ninth Circuit Rules that Eating is a Major Life Activity Under the ADA Requiring Reasonable Accomidation by the Employer

Volume 2, Issue 13
September 24, 2003

In another case of first impression, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that eating is a major life activity under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). The case involved United States Bancorp and a former insulin-dependent diabetic employee, Rebecca Ann Fraser. Ms. Fraser's particular type of diabetes is hard to control, severe, and life threatening. Because her glucose levels often swing quickly high or low, she must conduct four or more blood sugar tests and adjust her glucose levels with food and insulin. Ms. Fraser contended that her supervisor refused to let her eat at her desk, despite knowing of her condition, resulting in her passing out in the bank lobby. After she complained to upper management, Ms. Fraser contends she was retaliated against and ultimately terminated.

In reversing the district court, which had granted summary judgment in favor of the employer, the Ninth Circuit Court found that the physical activity of eating is a major activity under the ADA, such that an employer must reasonably accommodate employees who are substantially limited in such an activity. The court noted that simple dietary restrictions would not rise to the level of a substantial impairment, but that employees with certain types of diabetes or severe food allergies may result in impairments covered by the ADA. Thus, the court sent Ms. Fraser's case back to the district court for a trial on the issue of whether her severe diabetes was truly substantially limiting Ms. Fraser's major life activity of eating.

This case provides a review of a newly recognized type of a "major life activity," which, if an employee is substantially limited in performing the major life activity, will require employers to reasonably accommodate. Additionally, the case is another reminder that the determination of whether someone is disabled under the ADA is an individualized fact-intensive inquiry requiring careful consideration by an employer and the use of the informal interactive process to obtain information from the employee and the employee's medical providers.

Fraser v. Goodale, --- F.3d ---, 2003 WL 22072079 (9th Cir. Sept. 8, 2003).

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