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Hutton v. Elf Atochem North America, Inc.

273 F.3d 884 (2001)

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Hutton v. Elf Atochem North America, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

273 F.3d 884 (2001)

Facts

From 1986 until 1998, Norman Hutton (plaintiff) worked for Elf Atochem North America, Inc. (Elf) (defendant), which manufactured chlorine and related chemical products. Hutton’s job primarily involved transforming chlorine gas—which can cause severe and potentially fatal harm to people near it—into liquid chlorine. Hutton had Type I diabetes. During diabetic episodes, Hutton felt light-headed, had difficulties communicating, and sometimes lost consciousness. In 1992, after Hutton had a seizure at work, Elf conditioned Hutton’s continued employment upon Hutton’s compliance with specific requirements to monitor and treat his diabetes. In 1998, Hutton had another diabetic episode at work. Elf suspended Hutton, stating that Hutton was in violation of several of his monitoring and treatment requirements. Multiple physicians assessed Hutton’s control of his diabetes and provided conflicting opinions. Finally, Elf and Hutton sought an opinion from a neutral third party, diabetes specialist Doctor James Prihoda. Prihoda opined that Hutton’s control of his diabetes was fair, that Hutton was not experiencing increased episodes, and that Hutton was capable of being a productive worker. However, Prihoda agreed with every other doctor who had assessed Hutton that there was no way to guarantee that Hutton would experience no further diabetic episodes. Ultimately, Elf terminated Hutton, noting that Elf currently had no vacant positions that could accommodate Hutton’s medical condition but that Elf would consider him for such a position if one became available. Hutton initially sued Elf in Oregon state court, alleging disability-discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Oregon law, but Hutton’s case was removed to federal district court. Elf moved for summary judgment, arguing that Hutton was not a qualified employee under the ADA because his diabetes created a risk of significant harm to himself and others. The district court granted Elf’s summary-judgment motion, and Hutton appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Tashima, J.)

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