Siemon v. AT&T Corp., 96-1159

Decision Date30 June 1997
Docket NumberNo. 96-1159,96-1159
Citation117 F.3d 1173
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit
Parties10 NDLR P 175 Kurt SIEMON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. AT&T CORPORATION, formerly known as American Telephone and Telegraph Company, a New York corporation; AT&T Global Business Communications Systems, a division of AT&T Corporation; AT&T Sickness and Accident Disability Benefit Plan, Defendants--Appellees.

Richard J. Lesch, Denver, Colorado, for Appellant.

Donna K. McNamara (Lee Dale with her on the brief), Sherman & Howard, L.L.C., Denver, Colorado, for Appellees.

Before ANDERSON, LUCERO and MURPHY, Circuit Judges.

LUCERO, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff Kurt Siemon sued his employer, AT&T, and the AT&T Sickness and Accident Disability Benefit Plan, (collectively "AT&T") for violating provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Employee Retirement and Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. The district court granted AT&T summary judgment on all three of Siemon's claims and this appeal followed. We affirm.

I

Siemon began working for AT&T in 1975. In early 1991, he worked in its Denver office as an Accounts Receivable Specialist. At that time, he was placed under a new supervisor, Lee Ann Fortune. The relationship between the two was never good, deteriorating over two years until Siemon took disability leave because of the severe depression and anxiety he suffered from working under Fortune. While on disability leave Siemon consulted with three psychiatrists. Though their views varied, each suggested he not return to work under Fortune's supervision.

AT&T offered Siemon a transfer to a different supervisor, but he declined the offer, or any other within the supervisory chain of Fortune's supervisor, Phil Warner. Siemon asserted that his disability prevented him from working within the Warner chain of command because Fortune had "poisoned the waters." The department headed by Warner then included approximately 150 employees. While on disability, Siemon was unable to find another position within AT&T, and AT&T did not offer him one outside of Warner's department.

When Siemon was placed on disability leave, he became eligible to receive benefits under AT&T's Sickness and Accident Disability Benefit Plan ("SADB Plan"). This ERISA welfare benefit plan entitles employees to receive disability benefits commensurate with their length of tenure at AT&T. The amount and duration of benefits depends on the cause of an employee's disability: "sickness disability benefits" are available for up to fifty two weeks if an employee is totally disabled due to a "nonjob-related illness or injury"; "accident disability benefits" are available for as long as an employee is disabled as a result of a "work-related on-the-job accident."

Siemon obtained his disability benefits under the sickness disability portion of the SADB Plan, receiving payments equal to his regular salary for 26 weeks and, thereafter, benefits equal to half his regular salary for another 26 weeks. In October, 1993, when his disability benefit dropped to half his regular salary, Siemon inquired about other benefits to which he might be eligible. His benefits counselor indicated that Siemon should consider applying for "Other Benefit" payments, described in an AT&T board resolution. "Other Benefit" payments, which are not mentioned in any AT&T-sponsored ERISA plan document, may be requested by employees who demonstrate "severe financial need and hardship." See Appellant's App. at 43. Requests for Other Benefit payments are made to the AT&T Benefit Claim and Appeal Committee ("the Committee") by filling out a four page statement and submitting corroborating documentation. The Committee has authority, at its discretion, to authorize payments or loans of no more than $1,000.

Siemon applied for and was denied Other Benefit payments. He asked the Committee to reconsider its decision. It did so and again denied his application, explaining that Siemon had not demonstrated that he had pursued other alternatives and that, specifically, he had not made sufficient efforts to reduce his expenses.

Siemon then filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that AT&T violated the ADA by failing to reasonably accommodate his disability. The EEOC issued a Right to Sue letter and Siemon filed this suit. Siemon's complaint alleged that he was a "qualified individual with a disability," and that AT&T's failure to provide a reasonable accommodation violated the ADA. Siemon also brought two claims under ERISA. First, he alleged that the decision to classify him under the "sickness disability benefit" provision of the SADB Plan rather than under the "accident disability benefit" provision violated ERISA. Second, he asserted that the method through which AT&T provided Other Benefit payments constituted an ERISA plan, and that AT&T had failed to comply with ERISA's notice and disclosure requirements.

In response, AT&T filed a motion for summary judgment, which the district court granted in its entirety. With respect to Siemon's ADA claim, the court found as a matter of law that Siemon was not a "qualified individual with a disability" because his inability to work in a department of 150 employees "does not constitute an inability to perform a class of jobs or a broad range of jobs in various classes," as must be shown to qualify for a disability under the ADA. Appellant's Supp.App. at 138. As to Siemon's ERISA claims, the district court first found that AT&T's classification decision under the SADB Plan was proper because his disability did not result from an on-the-job accident. The district court also concluded that Other Benefit payments were not subject to ERISA regulation because the arrangement did not constitute a "plan, fund or program" as required under ERISA. Specifically, the court held that the "Other Benefit" payment scheme was not a "plan" because it did not "implicate an ongoing administrative scheme." The court based its decision on Fort Halifax Packing Co. v. Coyne, 482 U.S. 1, 107 S.Ct. 2211, 96 L.Ed.2d 1 (1987), in which the Supreme Court held that an ERISA plan requires "an ongoing administrative program to meet the employer's obligation." Id. at 11, 107 S.Ct. at 2217.

II

In his appeal, Siemon presses the same arguments raised before the district court, asserting that summary judgment was improperly granted. We review the grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same legal standard used by the district court under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). James v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 21 F.3d 989, 997-98 (10th Cir.1994). Summary judgment is appropriate if "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and ... the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In applying the standard, we construe the factual record and all reasonable inferences from the record in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Blue Circle Cement, Inc. v. Board of County Comm'rs, 27 F.3d 1499, 1503 (10th Cir.1994).

A

Under the ADA, it is illegal for an employer to "discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual." 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). A "qualified individual with a disability" means a person with (1) a "disability" who (2) can perform the essential functions of the employment position, with or without "reasonable accommodation." 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8). Hence, Siemon must demonstrate (1) that he is "disabled" within the meaning of the ADA; (2) that he is qualified--with or without reasonable accommodation; and (3) that he was discriminated against because of his disability. See White v. York Int'l Corp., 45 F.3d 357, 360-61 (10th Cir.1995). In this case we focus on the term "disability" because if Siemon suffers no "disability" AT&T's behavior is not actionable under the ADA.

For the purposes of Siemon's claim, the term "disability" means "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of [the] individual." 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A). Working is a "major life activity." Bolton v. Scrivner, Inc., 36 F.3d 939, 942 (10th Cir.1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1152, 115 S.Ct. 1104, 130 L.Ed.2d 1071 (1995). In order to demonstrate that an impairment "substantially limits" the major life activity of working, Siemon must show a "significant restriction in the ability to perform either a class of jobs or a broad range of jobs in various classes as compared to the average person having comparable training, skills and abilities." Id. (quoting 29 C.F.R. 1630.2(j)(3)(i)). A "class of jobs" includes "jobs utilizing similar training, knowledge, skills or abilities, within that geographical area," while a "broad range of jobs in various classes" includes "jobs not utilizing similar training, knowledge, skills or abilities, within that geographical area, from which the individual is also disqualified because of the impairment." 29 C.F.R. §§ 1630.2(j)(3)(ii)(B),(C). "The inability to perform a single, particular job does not constitute a substantial limitation in the major life activity of working." 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(3)(i).

Reviewing the facts in the light most favorable to Siemon, we conclude that he does not suffer from a disability as the term is used within the ADA because his disability does not prevent him from performing a class of jobs or a broad range of jobs in various classes. Siemon alleges that his impairment precludes his ability to work within a 150 employee group at AT&T's office in Denver. He does not allege that his impairment prevents him from working at other AT&T positions in Denver, much less for any other Denver employer. To the contrary, he asserts that he is qualified to perform many jobs, including sales representative, accounts receivable specialist, administrative clerk, order writer, records clerk, and word processing specialist....

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