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Schmidt v. Methodist Hospital of Indiana

July 9, 1996

LESTER SCHMIDT,

PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

METHODIST HOSPITAL OF INDIANA, INC.,

DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. 93 C 1475--Larry J. McKinney, Judge.

Before BAUER, RIPPLE, and MANION, Circuit Judges.

BAUER, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED FEBRUARY 5, 1996

DECIDED JULY 9, 1996

Lester Schmidt worked as a nurse at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana. Schmidt filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. secs. 12101, et seq., claiming that the hospital failed to make a reasonable accommodation for his hearing disability by refusing to transfer him to a different nursing unit. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the hospital, and we affirm.

Background

Schmidt, who is severely hard of hearing, is a registered clinical nurse. When he applied for a nursing position at Methodist in August 1992, the hospital offered him a choice between its hemodialysis and orthopedic units. With the hopes of becoming a certified nephrology nurse, Schmidt selected the former. He accepted Methodist's offer of employment as a "Clinical Nurse, Acute Dialysis Unit-5H," and started work on September 8, 1992.

Like all new hires, Schmidt entered an initial six to eight week orientation period during which he was paired with a more experienced hemodialysis nurse. Almost immediately, however, Schmidt realized that his hearing disability was particularly problematic in the hemodialysis unit. The unit's medical equipment, which included dialysis, blood pressure, and heart monitor machines, had different alarms to signify changes in a patient's medical condition. Schmidt's impaired hearing prevented him from distinguishing the respective alarms. The alarms left Schmidt disoriented and confused, which in turn led him to fear that he would be unable to respond appropriately in case of an emergency.

But the alarms were not Schmidt's only problem in the hemodialysis unit. According to Leeann Gerholdt, Schmidt's preceptor during the orientation period, and Rebecca Nicely, the nursing manager in the unit, Schmidt had difficulty setting up the dialysis machines. Whereas trainees typically can set up a dialysis machine within their first two weeks, Schmidt still had not mastered the task after five weeks on the unit. Schmidt himself admitted that he had difficulty with the machine, and that he never felt completely comfortable with it. Moreover, Schmidt also had trouble determining the appropriate treatment for certain critical situations. On several occasions, Gerholdt noted that Schmidt did not respond quickly enough to a dialyzed patient's falling blood pressure or to other symptoms of patients in distress.

Despite initial progress reports that were satisfactory, Schmidt realized within the first six weeks that he could not continue. On October 15, he met with Nicely and Sue Biggs, a clinical instructor, to discuss his predicament. Six days later, Schmidt again met with hospital personnel who expressed their concerns with Schmidt's performance. Sandra Bradley, patient care manager for the hemodialysis unit, offered Schmidt some suggestions and said that they would meet again in a couple of weeks. The next day, however, Schmidt requested a transfer to another unit, preferably orthopedics. Methodist declined the transfer, and gave Schmidt three options. He could resume his position in the hemodialysis orientation program and receive additional training, he could resign voluntarily and reapply for a position in a different area, or he could be terminated. After Schmidt declined each of the first two options, Methodist terminated his employment effective November 4, 1992.

The sequence and timing of these events implicate several of Methodist's employment policies. First, during the initial six months of a nurse's employment, termination is not subject to appeal through the hospital's grievance procedure. This policy is designed to give the hospital an opportunity to evaluate its hiring decisions over a preliminary time period. In other words, for the first six months, Schmidt was a provisional employee. Second, nurses in their provisional employment period typically are ineligible for transfers to other departments. Schmidt claims that Methodist's adherence to these policies constitutes a failure to reasonably accommodate his disability.

Analysis

We review a district court's decision to grant summary judgment de novo, viewing all evidence submitted and the legitimate inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Beck v. University of Wisconsin Bd. of Regents, 75 F.3d 1130, 1134 (7th Cir. 1996). We apply this standard with added rigor in employment discrimination cases, where intent and credibility are crucial issues. Accordingly, we will affirm the decision of the district court only if, had the record before that court been the record of a complete trial, the defendant would have been entitled to a directed verdict. Robinson v. PPG Industries, Inc., 23 F.3d 1159, 1162 (7th Cir. 1994).

Enacted in 1990, the ADA is designed to level the playing field for the more than 43,000,000 Americans who have one or more physical or mental disabilities. Siefken v. Village of Arlington Heights, 65 F.3d 664, 666 (7th Cir. 1995); see also Vande Zande v. Wisconsin ...


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