ADA Does Not Necessitate Transfer for Insomnia

April 7, 2003 ( - Seeing no connection between her duties and her disability, a court ruled against a transfer to an above-ground job for a subway token clerk who narrowly escaped a firebombing incident that killed a colleague.

The US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals found that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to certain disabled employees, defined as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities,” did not apply in this case.   Instead the plaintiff’s disability, insomnia caused by her post-traumatic stress, did not necessitate a transfer because the plaintiff failed to argue the infliction was worsened by working in the subway, according to a report by the New York Law Journal.

>With the 2-1 decision, the appeals court affirmed the summary judgment granted to the New York City Transit Authority by a lower court judge. There, US District Judge Shira Scheindlin of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, found there was no connection between the plaintiff’s disability and the accommodation requested.

The Facts

The dispute arose out of a 1995 attack on a token clerk in a Brooklyn station by two assailants who squirted gasoline into the booth and then set it afire, killing the clerk.   At the time, Denise Felix was en route to the station where she was assigned as a relief clerk. She saw the smoke-filled station and was told about the attack, resulting in trauma by the realization that she could have been killed. Felix was taken to the hospital were doctors diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder. They specified that she was not to do any subway work, but could do clerical work.

However, the Transit Authority refused Felix’s request to be reassigned to an above-ground job, and instead fired her under a state law that permits termination of civil service employees who are unable to return to work after one year. Felix, who has since died of unrelated causes, sued under the ADA for the Transit Authority’s refusal to accommodate her disability.

Appeals Ruling

Chief Judge John Walker Jr found in Felix’s case, she was disabled with insomnia caused by her post-traumatic stress, but this argument did not warrant a transfer.   Rather, the court noted, “she told the [Transit Authority] that she could not work in the subway because she was “terrified of being alone and closed in.” The court made its ruling even though it acknowledged that both mental conditions, the insomnia and the fear of being in the subway, derived from the same traumatic incident.

In dissent, Judge Pierre Leval questioned the majority’s finding that Felix failed to show a causal link between her insomnia and the requested accommodation. To the contrary, he argued, even the Transit Authority’s own doctors found that going underground aggravated Felix’s insomnia. Given that, Leval reasoned, the case should have gone to a jury to determine whether she was entitled to a reasonable accommodation of her disability.

The case is Felix v. New York City Transit Authority, 01-7967.