Is Night Blindness a Disability?

The Second Circuit says yes. Capobianco v. City of New York (No. 04-3230) (2nd Cir. Sept 1, 2005).

Plaintiff - Capobianco - was hired as a New York sanitation worker. He had no problems until he was shifted from the day shift to the night shift. It was then learned that he could not function at night due to congenital night blindness. The Court discussed the evidence regarding his condition:

"[A]fter 20 minutes in darkness, Mr. Capobiancorequires more than 100 times as much light in order to see as does a normally-sighted person." Dr. Brodie also explained that "[c]ongenital stationary night blindness is quite rare, occurring in about 1 individual in 10,000." Capobianco was born with his night blindness and the condition is permanent and "stationary": it will not get better or worse with age. The condition cannot be corrected with surgery, glasses, contact lenses, or other optical means. Capobianco does not have "myopic macular degeneration." Capobianco's night blindness does not limit him in performing the daily activities of his life, as long as the lighting conditions are adequate. For example, he is able to care for his young daughter, including driving her to school in the morning and picking her up at 5 p.m. He is able to perform typical household tasks such as housecleaning and routine chores, including taking garbage to the curb at night and picking up at night toys or other items left in the front yard. He exercisesregularly, including walking, jogging, and playing tennis, and walks his dog both at night and during the day. He also has an extensive work history, and has been able to work as an ambulance driver, a security guard, a toll taker, a postal worker, and an office worker. However, Capobianco is able to engage in these activities only during the day.

In reversing summary judgment for the Defendant, the Court stated:

A jury could surely find, from this combination ofcircumstances, that Capobianco's night blindness significantlyrestricts the manner in which he can see as compared to the"average person in the general population." Seeing is afundamental life activity of central performance, and the averageperson can see and function at night and in dim light. Areasonable jury could find that driving, walking, running,biking, and engaging in other outdoor activities and excursionsare important activities in the lives of most people and that theinability to engage in these activities at night or in dim light(which can encompass fourteen hours of the day in our part of theworld) is not just a difference in sight but a severe restriction, i.e.,a substantial limitation, on the ability to see.

The City also lost on "regarded as" grounds. They were probably not helped by this series of memos from the departments Personnel Management Division:

The Personnel Management Divisionrecommends termination for probationarysanitation worker Anthony Copobianco [sic].

He is unable to perform in title duties of asanitation worker due to Myopic MacularDegeneration. Mr. Copobianco [sic] wasplaced on a limited duty Medical Assignmentby the Medical Division shortly after he washired.

Later, unhappy that Mr. Capobianco had been accommodated by the department by being given day work (something it obviously had in abundance), the Personnel Management Division took another shot:

On June 11, 1999 I sent the attached letter to you recommending termination of [Capobianco] due to Myopic Macular Degeneration. The eye problem he has hampers his ability to perform the duties of sanitation workers, especially during the night time hours.If the disease is continuing to degenerate, why are [we] waiting to terminate him? Why did the clinic resume him to regularduties on a days only tissue?

It is unfortunate when an organization's HR department works to undermine mid-level management's attempts to do the correct (and legally required) thing. In this case, it certainly helped Mr. Capabianco get his case to a jury.Sexual Harassment, Pregnancy Discrimination, Age Discrimination, San Antonio, Employment Lawyer