EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff - Appellant,
MCLEOD HEALTH, INC., Defendant-Appellee.
Argued: November 15, 2018
from the United States District Court for the District of
South Carolina, at Florence. Bruce H. Hendricks, District
Daniel Horowitz, UNITED STATES EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY
COMMISSION, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.
Michael Montgomery Shetterly, I, OGLETREE, DEAKINS, NASH,
SMOAK & STEWART, P.C., Greenville, South Carolina, for
L. Lee, Deputy General Counsel, Jennifer S. Goldstein,
Associate General Counsel, Elizabeth E. Theran, Assistant
General Counsel, Office of General Counsel, UNITED STATES
EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Washington, D.C.,
J. Asper, OGLETREE, DEAKINS, NASH, SMOAK & STEWART, P.C.,
Greenville, South Carolina, for Appellee.
GREGORY, Chief Judge, and KEENAN and FLOYD, Circuit Judges.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought suit
against McLeod Health, Inc. for alleged violations of the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC claimed that
McLeod violated the ADA by requiring Cecilia Whitten, a
longtime employee with a disability, to undergo a
work-related medical exam. Additionally, the EEOC claimed
that McLeod violated the ADA by wrongfully discharging
Whitten on the basis of her disability. The district court
granted summary judgment to McLeod on both claims, and the
EEOC now appeals. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the
district court and remand for further proceedings.
years, Whitten worked for McLeod, a corporation that operates
various hospitals and other healthcare facilities in South
Carolina. She was, in essence, the editor of
McLeod's internal employee newsletter. One of her
responsibilities was to develop content for the newsletter by
interviewing other employees and writing about company
events. To that end, Whitten typically traveled among
McLeod's various campuses. Although it was not always so,
McLeod now has five different campuses, spread throughout an
area of roughly 100 miles.
was born with a physical disability known as "postaxial
hypoplasia of the lower extremity." J.A. 284.
Consequently, she lacks certain bones in her legs, feet, and
right hand. J.A. 282. Her lower legs are, in her words,
"shorter than normal," and her "right arm is
shorter than [her] left arm." Id.
result of her disability, Whitten has always struggled with
mobility. "Falling," she testified, "has been
part of my life all my life and there's no way around
it." J.A. 317. Although she has had several surgeries to
increase her stability, her limited "use of [her] feet
and legs" still causes her to "fall sometimes"
and "stumble sometimes." J.A. 287. Additionally,
her condition causes her to "get . . .tired more
easily" and makes it difficult for her to sit or stand
"in one position for too long." J.A. 287-88.
her limited mobility, Whitten satisfactorily performed her
duties as editor of McLeod's employee newsletter for
almost three decades. In McLeod's words, Whitten's
condition "has not impacted her ability to perform the
essential functions of her job during her employment."
J.A. 142. Records indicate that Whitten fell at work multiple
times before the events that precipitated this appeal.
the course of several months preceding the events at issue
here, Whitten's manager, Jumana Swindler, repeatedly
expressed concerns about Whitten's performance to
McLeod's human resources department (HR). Swindler told
HR that Whitten had been missing deadlines, arriving late to
work, and, in Swindler's view, displaying a
less-than-enthusiastic attitude about McLeod's internal
messaging. In her discussions with HR, Swindler raised the
possibility that Whitten's performance issues were due to
problems with her health. Swindler thought that Whitten
looked "sluggish," as if walking was more difficult
for her than usual. J.A. 390. According to Swindler,
Whitten appeared flushed and winded after moving very short
distances; she also seemed to have trouble staying alert
HR's suggestion, Swindler attempted to address
Whitten's performance issues by meeting with Whitten,
clarifying her expectations, and reducing Whitten's
workload. She did not raise ...