The 4th U.S. Court of Appeals has dismissed an employee’s lawsuit, holding that the individual’s inability to work overtime hours was not a substantial limitation that would entitle him to the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Boitnott v. Corning Incorporated, 4th Cir., No. 10-1769, February 10, 2012.

Michael Boitnott, an employee of Corning, was diagnosed with a form of leukemia while on a medical leave in 2003. Although no treatment was required for his illness, Boitnott advised Corning in 2004 that he would be unable to return to his regular work schedule as a maintenance engineer. That schedule consisted of 12-hour shifts, alternating two weeks of day shifts with two weeks of night shifts. According to Boitnott’s doctor, Boitnott was capable of working a normal 8-hour day and 40-hour week, but was unable to work overtime.

Because Boitnott could not return to his prior position, he applied for – and initially was granted – long term disability (LTD) benefits in May 2004, and then filed a charge of discrimination against Corning, alleging that the company failed to accommodate his disability. However, the carrier terminated Boitnott’s LTD benefits in October of 2004, based on the fact that Boitnott was capable of working a normal 40-hour workweek, and that certain maintenance positions existed at that point which did not require overtime.

In June 2005, one of Boitnott’s doctor’s indicated that Boitnott could return to work for up to 10 hours a day, four days a week, but did not mention overtime. One other doctor said that Boitnott could work the four 10-hour days with “moderate” overtime. However, at that point, none of the day shift maintenance positions were available. Corning then worked with the union to resolve the issue by creating a new maintenance position consisting of day shift work of 8 hours a day with limited overtime. Boitnott was allowed to apply for that position, in spite of the fact that he was not on active status. He was hired for the position, and has held the job since 2005.

An individual seeking the protections of the ADA must show that his impairment “substantially limits” a major life activity. If an individual cannot demonstrate that his impairment limits what is typically viewed as a major life activity (i.e., seeing, hearing, walking, etc.), courts can then consider whether the impairment limits his ability to work. To do so, the individual must show a significant restriction in his ability to perform either a “class of jobs or a broad range of jobs in various classes as compared to the average person having comparable training, skills and abilities.”

Federal appellate courts previously have addressed the question of whether the inability to work overtime is a substantial limitation on the major life activity of working. The First, Third, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Circuits all have held that an employee is not “substantially limited” if he or she can work a 40-hour workweek, but is unable to work overtime hours. The Fourth Circuit now joins that group. The Court based its holding on the fact that beginning as early as February 2004, Boitnott was cleared to work a full 40-hour workweek, and that his ability to work overtime did not significantly restrict his ability to perform a class of jobs or a broad range of job in various classes in his geographic area.

While this decision is consistent with decisions of its sister circuits, the Fourth Circuit was careful to make an individualized inquiry into the local labor market to assure that other jobs actually were available that were consistent with Boitnott’s restriction of “no overtime.” Employers should be aware of that fact, and should not assume that the inability to work overtime can never support a successful ADA claim.