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Ford v. Schering-Plough Corp.

May 22, 1998


Before: Mansmann, Cowen and Alito, Circuit Judges

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cowen, Circuit Judge.

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey

(D.C. No. 96-cv-01991)

Argued January 28, 1998


This appeal presents the purely legal question of whether a disparity between disability benefits for mental and physical disabilities violates the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (1994). The plaintiff-appellant, Colleen Ford, sued her employer, Schering-Plough Corporation (Schering), and the carrier of Schering's group insurance policy, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (MetLife), alleging that the two-year cap applicable to benefits for mental disabilities, but not for physical disabilities, violates the ADA. On September 12, 1996, the District Court for the District of New Jersey granted the defendants' motion to dismiss Ford's complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Ford appealed. We will affirm the order of the district court dismissing Ford's complaint even though we differ with the district court by finding Ford eligible to file suit under Title I of the ADA.


The facts concerning the plaintiff's employment and her disability are not in dispute. Ford was an employee of Schering from 1975 until May of 1992, when she became disabled by virtue of a mental disorder and was unable to continue her employment. While she served as an employee, Ford enrolled in the employee welfare benefits plan offered by Schering through MetLife. The plan provided that benefits for physical disabilities would continue until the disabled employee reached age sixty-five so long as the physical disability persisted. Regarding mental disabilities, however, the plan mandated that benefits cease after two years if the disabled employee was not hospitalized. Ford found herself in this latter category, suffering from a mental disorder yet not hospitalized and thus ineligible for a continuation of her benefits past the two-year limit. Her benefits expired on Nov. 23, 1994.

Ford filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC issued her a "right-to-sue" letter on January 31, 1996. Subsequently, Ford filed a three-count complaint against Schering and MetLife alleging discrimination in violation of the ADA. The defendants filed motions to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) and, in the alternative, for summary judgment. The district court granted the defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motion, dismissing the complaint for failure to state a claim. This appeal followed.


We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (1994), and our review over the district court's order is plenary. When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, we accept as true all the allegations set forth in the complaint, and we must draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See Schrob v. Catterson, 948 F.2d 1402, 1405 (3d Cir. 1991). Dismissal of a plaintiff's claim under Rule 12(b)(6) occurs only if the plaintiff "can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S. Ct. 99, 102 (1957).


Because the facts of this case are not in dispute, our analysis focuses on the legal question of whether the disparity between mental and physical disability benefits violates the ADA and, as a preliminary issue, whether Ford is even eligible to sue under the ADA. We will address Ford's claims under Titles I and III seriatim.


Ford's first claim alleges that the defendants' group insurance plan violates Title I of the ADA because of the disparity in benefits between mental and physical disabilities. Title I of the ADA proscribes discrimination in the terms and conditions of employment and mandates in relevant part:

(a) General rule

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.

(b) Construction

As used in subsection (a) of this section, the term "discriminate" includes--

(2) participating in a contractual or other arrangement or relationship that has the effect of subjecting a covered entity's qualified applicant or employee with a disability to the discrimination prohibited by this subchapter (such relationship includes a relationship with . . . an organization providing fringe benefits to an employee of the covered entity[)] . . . .

42 U.S.C. § 12112(a)-(b) (emphasis added). As the plaintiff correctly observes, the defendants' group insurance plan is a fringe benefit of employment at Schering. Ford claims that the defendants violated Title I of the ADA because the mental-physical disparity constitutes discrimination against her on the basis of her disability.


Before addressing the merits of Ford's Title I claim, we must first ascertain whether Ford is eligible tofile suit under Title I. While the district court held that Ford lacked "standing[,]" Dist. Ct. Op. at 7, the question of standing is not at issue in this case. Indeed, Ford has been"injured in fact" by the denial of her benefits, which is"an injury to [herself] that is likely to be redressed by a favorable decision." Simon v. Eastern Ky. Welfare Rights Org., 426 U.S. 26, 38, 96 S. Ct. 1917, 1924 (1976). Furthermore, Ford's interest is arguably within the zone of interests regulated by the ADA. See id. at 39 n.19, 96 S. Ct. at 1925 n.19. Instead of ascertaining Ford's standing, we must assess Ford's eligibility under the ADA's requirements to file suit.

Title I of the ADA restricts the ability to sue under its provisions to a "qualified individual with a disability[,]" whose characteristics are defined as follows:

The term "qualified individual with a disability" means an individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires. For the purposes of this subchapter, consideration shall be given to the employer's judgment as to what functions of a job are essential, and if an employer has prepared a written description before advertising or interviewing applicants for the job, this description shall be considered evidence of the essential functions of the job.

42 U.S.C. ยง 12111(8). Thus, an individual eligible to sue under Title I of the ADA must be disabled but still able to perform his or her job duties with or without a reasonable accommodation by the employer. Ford, however, admits that she is currently unable to work even with a reasonable accommodation. Indeed, her disabled ...

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