Court: Diabetic's Suit Against U.S. Bancorp Should Go To Trial

September 10, 2003 ( - A divided three-judge panel has given the green light to a diabetic's lawsuit against U.S. Bancorp's decision not to allow her to eat at her desk to go to trial.

>The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision reverses a federal judge’s initial dismissal of the suit that was filed in 2000.   The suit claims the U.S. Bancorp’s decision to not allow a diabetic employee to eat at her desk to control her blood sugar, and the subsequent retaliation, was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), according to an Associated Press report.

>However, turning to the text of the ADA, the majority of the appellate court panel found eating to be a major life activity, following rulings by three other federal circuit courts of appeals in determining the case should go to trial. “Not only must she not eat certain foods, but she must carefully assess her blood sugar before putting anything into her mouth,” Judge J Clifford Wallace wrote. “It is the physical activity of eating in general that she argues is impaired, and we agree that this activity is a major life activity under the ADA.”

>Whereas the dissenting justice, Circuit Judge Richard Tallman wrote that the employee’s diabetes did not substantially interfere with eating.  

“I think it’s a significant victory for advocates of people with diabetes,” said Craig Crispin, the employee’s attorney.   With the decision, U.S. Bancorp also said it plans to appeal, which could result in either asking a larger panel of the appeals court or the US Supreme Court to review the case.

Case History

>Rebecca Ann Fraser, began working as a senior account specialist for U.S. Bancorp in June 1998 and in November of that year, her supervisor told her she could not eat at her desk.   This came despite the fact that Fraser, who suffers from Type I insulin-dependent diabetes, had orders from her physician that she may need four or more blood tests a day and multiple insulin injections, depending on how much she had eaten.  

>When her blood sugar became low, Fraser asked whether she could eat some food stored in her desk, but her supervisor refused.   She eventually passed out in the lobby of the bank.

>Later, Fraser said she complained to her supervisor’s boss, which led to her dismissal in March 1999.

Fraser sued, saying the bank failed to accommodate her disability under ADA. US District Judge Robert Jones dismissed the case, saying Fraser failed to show that she was disabled under the act. Specifically, she failed to show that her diabetes interfered with a major life activity, Jones said.