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Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside

August 18, 2009


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, (D.C. No. 07-cv-00807), District Judge: The Honorable Arthur J. Schwab.

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


ARGUED MAY 20, 2009



In this appeal we are asked to determine whether the Appellant, Barbara Fowler, was too late in filing her discrimination claims against her employer, UPMC Shadyside Hospital. Fowler charged UPMC Shadyside with violating her rights under the Rehabilitation Act. The District Court dismissed Fowler's complaint before any responsive pleading was filed or discovery took place, finding it time-barred. Alternatively, the District Court determined that Fowler's complaint did not allege a disability under the Rehabilitation Act and that claims under the Act are inappropriate for class action litigation. We will vacate the dismissal and remand the cause.


The relevant facts underlying this appeal are not complicated and we take them directly from Fowler's complaint. Fowler was injured on the job while employed by UPMC as a janitor/housekeeper at Shadyside Hospital. She was injured on April 22, 2002 and was placed on Family/Medical Leave and short-term disability. After she was released by her doctor to perform sedentary work, UPMC provided Fowler with a light-duty clerical position. However, UPMC eliminated this position on August 29, 2003. Fowler avers in her complaint that before UPMC eliminated her clerical position she applied for a similar job but was never contacted by UPMC about that position. UPMC terminated her employment on September 24, 2003.

Compared to the factual history, the procedural history is more complex. Fowler filed her complaint on June 14, 2007. She maintains, however, that she first asserted her claims by filing an amended complaint in another action, Tish v. Magee Woman's Hospital of UPMC, No. 06-820, 2007 WL 1221137 (W.D. Pa. June 21, 2006). The plaintiff in that case, Tish, had previously attempted to join in yet another case, Bolden v. Magee Woman's Hospital of UPMC, No. 05-1063, 2007 WL 1228479 (W.D. Pa. Aug. 1, 2005). The plaintiff in Bolden had sought leave of court to add Tish as an additional named plaintiff and to include class action allegations asserting that UPMC has a pattern or practice of failing to transfer employees on disability leave in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. Judge Terrence F. McVerry denied that motion, and severed the parties, directing that "the claims of [Tish], as well as the claims of any other potential plaintiffs who allegedly suffered a similar sort of wrong, should be filed as individual cases, and not as a class action." Tish, 2007 WL 1221137, at *8. Fowler re-filed a complaint pursuant to Judge McVerry's orders on June 14, 2007.

The District Court, per Judge Arthur J. Schwab, dismissed Fowler's complaint, finding that it was time-barred by the Rehabilitation Act's general two-year statute of limitations. The District Court also determined that Fowler's restriction to sedentary work did not constitute a disability under the Rehabilitation Act and that Fowler's class action allegations are not appropriate claims under the Act.

We review a district court's decision granting a motion to dismiss under a plenary standard. See Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005). The District Court had subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because Fowler's causes of action arise under federal law. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 because this is an appeal from a final order.


We first must determine whether a two-year or a four-year statute of limitations applies to Fowler's failure-to-transfer claim. There is disagreement among the District Courts in this Circuit as to the appropriate time limitation in this type of case.*fn1 We resolve this tension today in favor of a four-year limitation period.

Fowler alleges violations of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 et seq.*fn2 Congress passed the Rehabilitation Act in 1973 to make certain that no individual with a disability would "be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." 29 U.S.C. § 794(a). The Act does not include an express limitation clause. We have, therefore, borrowed the statute of limitations of the most analogous state law cause of action. Disabled in Action of Pennsylvania v. SEPTA, 539 F.3d 199, 208 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing North Star Steel Co. v. Thomas, 515 U.S. 29, 33-34 (1995); Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 266-67 (1985). In the Disabled in Action case, for example, we held that a two-year statute of limitations applied to claims brought under ยง 504 of the Rehabilitation Act because the discrimination ...

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