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McDonald v. Com. of Pa.

filed: August 4, 1995.

BONITA MCDONALD, APPELLANT
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE, POLK CENTER, APPELLEE



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA. (D.C. Civ. No. 94-cv-00009E).

Before: Hutchinson, Roth, and Weis, Circuit Judges.

Author: Weis

Opinion OF THE COURT

WEIS, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff alleges a discriminatory discharge from employment caused by her inability to work for about two months while recuperating from surgery. The district court concluded that the complaint failed to state a claim under the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. We agree and will affirm.

The relevant facts are those alleged in the plaintiff's complaint. On September 8, 1992, plaintiff was hired as a charge nurse at the Polk Center in Venango County, a residential institution for the mentally retarded operated by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. On December 24, 1992, during working hours, plaintiff became disabled because of severe abdominal pain. She was admitted to a hospital on the following day and underwent surgery on December 31, 1992.

On January 14, 1993, plaintiff requested that she be placed on unpaid sick leave until February 14, 1993, after which her physician reported that she could return to work. Polk Center denied her request because she was still a probationary employee and, under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, was not eligible for extended sick leave. Because she was unable to attend to her duties, the Center discharged plaintiff as of December 31, 1992.

Plaintiff filed claims with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and the EEOC, asserting that Polk Center had discriminated against her because of the disability resulting from her surgery. In due course, the EEOC issued a right to sue letter and plaintiff filed her complaint in the district court alleging that the defendant had violated the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §§ 701-797(b), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, Pa. Stat. Ann. tit. 43,

§§ 951-963.

Defendant filed a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), asserting that the complaint failed to state a claim. Granting the defendant's motion, the district court dismissed the federal counts with prejudice and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law cause of action.

The district court reasoned that the Disabilities and Rehabilitation Acts did not apply to the transitory disability that plaintiff had suffered, and that she was not "otherwise qualified" to work during the period in question. As an alternative holding, the court concluded that plaintiff was discharged because of her probationary employee status and that the Disabilities and Rehabilitation Acts hence were not applicable.

In an appeal from an order dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim, we accept as true the facts alleged in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them. Our scope of review is plenary. Unger v. National Residents Matching Program, 928 F.2d 1392, 1394 (3d Cir. 1991). Plaintiff did not seek to amend her complaint and does not request that relief on this appeal. See id. at 1401.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, has been termed "the civil rights bill of the disabled." Americans Disabled For Accessible Pub. Transp. (ADAPT) v. Skinner, 881 F.2d 1184, 1187 (3d Cir. 1989) (en banc). The statutory language and the regulations adopted to implement the legislation have proved to be ambiguous and, as such, fruitful sources of litigation. See Disabled in Action of Pennsylvania v. Sykes, 833 F.2d 1113, 1117 (3d Cir. 1987).

Partially because it recognized the problems caused by inconsistent interpretations of the Rehabilitation Act, and intending to broaden coverage, Congress in 1990 enacted the Disabilities Act. We reviewed the tortuous path of this legislation in Helen L. v. DiDario, 46 F.3d 325, 330-31 (3d Cir. 1995), petition for cert. filed sub. nom. Pennsylvania Secretary of Pub. Welfare v. Idell S., 63 U.S.L.W. 3861 (U.S. May 25, 1995) (No. 94-1946), and need not repeat that Discussion here. Further amplification may be found in the legislative history reported in 1990 ...


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