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Sieberns v. Wal-Mart Stores

September 11, 1997




Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division. No. 1:96 CV 0039 William C. Lee, Chief Judge.

Before BAUER, HARLINGTON WOOD, JR., and MANION, Circuit Judges.

MANION, Circuit Judge.



Monte Sieberns, who is blind, applied for a cashier/sales associate position at Wal-Mart. When he did not get the job he sued in federal court claiming that Wal-Mart discriminated against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). The district court granted Wal-Mart summary judgment and Sieberns appeals. We affirm.

I. Background

On October 18, 1995, Monte Sieberns, who is blind, applied to the Huntington, Indiana, Wal-Mart for a job as a cashier/sales associate in the Electronics Department. He completed an application and the next day was interviewed by the personnel manager, Sandra Bromfield. Following the interview, Bromfield met with Lana McQuitty, the store manager, to discuss Sieberns' application. The two reviewed the "Wal-Mart Stores' Matrix of Essential Functions." This matrix listed functions Wal-Mart believed essential to the position of cashier/ sales associate. Some of these essential functions involved checking out customer purchases, customer assistance, flagging merchandise (which required the employee to write and secure price information on signs by merchandise), merchandise stocking (which required the employee to place merchandise on the correct counter or in the correct space according to the label or instructions), zone defense (which required the employee to straighten merchandise and clean the merchandise area), changing prices (which required the employee to use mark-up or mark-down instructions to change price labels from the current price to the new price on designated merchandise, and to record as needed), and scanning the merchandise. In the Electronics Department, the location of the sales associate position in question, there was an extensive selection of merchandise that required close scrutiny for price distinctions and variations for products, and throughout the store more than 44,000 items were available. After reviewing the matrix and the duties in the Electronics Department, McQuitty and Bromfield determined that Sieberns could not perform the essential functions of the cashier/sales associate position.

Before contacting Sieberns with the bad news, however, Bromfield and McQuitty discussed the possibility of finding another position at Wal-Mart for Sieberns. They considered the positions of people greeter and telephone operator, even though those positions were currently filled. After some extensive evaluation, Wal-Mart determined that there was no position presently available for which Sieberns could perform the essential job functions. Then Bromfield notified Sieberns of the her attempts to locate a position for him and her inability to offer him a job.

Believing that disability discrimination was the real reason for Wal-Mart's rejection, Sieberns filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Following discovery, Wal-Mart moved for summary judgment, claiming that Sieberns failed to present sufficient evidence that he was a "qualified individual with a disability" under the ADA. The district court agreed and granted Wal-Mart summary judgment. Sieberns appeals.

II. Analysis

We review a district court decision granting summary judgment de novo. Bultemeyer v. Fort Wayne Comm. Sch., 100 F.3d 1281, 1282 (7th Cir. 1996). Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id.

Sieberns' suit is based on the ADA, the pertinent part of which provides:

No covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. 42 U.S.C. sec. 12112(a).

"Discrimination" as used in the ADA encompasses two distinct types of discrimination. First, it means treating "a qualified individual with a disability" differently because of the disability, i.e., disparate treatment. See Bultemeyer, 100 F.3d at 1283 (a claim "that other employees who were not disabled were treated more favorably. . . . [is a] claim for disparate treatment, . . . ."). A disparate treatment claim under the ADA--like disparate treatment claims brought under other federal anti-discrimination statutes--may be proved either directly, or indirectly using the McDonnell Douglas *fn1 burden-shifting method. Id. Additionally, because the ADA defines discrimination in part as "not making reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual . . .," 42 U.S.C. sec. 12112(b)(5)(A), a separate claim of discrimination can be stated under the ADA for failing to provide ...

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