RALEIGH — An administrative law judge ruled today that a state worker who was fired in 2008 for repeatedly sleeping on the job could not get her job back.
The case of Elsie Hinton, a $55,000-a-year artist at the Department of Transportation when she was dismissed, now goes to the State Personnel Commission for a final decision. If either Hinton or the transportation department is unhappy with the result, they can take the case to the state courts.
Hinton said she didnt know if she would pursue the case further.
I havent thought about it yet, she said in a brief telephone interview today before declining further comment.
During a hearing at the Office of Administrative Hearings in January, state officials highlighted a five year period during which Hinton fell asleep on the job several times, was admonished and disciplined and given the opportunity to seek medical help for sleep apnea. In one instance, a supervisor photographed Hinton asleep at her desk in order to document the episode.
Judge Melissa Owens Lassiter ruled that the Department of Transportation had just cause to fire Hinton.
By continually falling asleep and sleeping at work, (Hinton) engaged in unacceptable personal conduct, Lassiter wrote.
Hinton complained, though, that she was a victim of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, saying her sleep apnea was a handicap. Documents she filed in the case said she uses a breathing mask and special device to sleep and night, but the device was malfunctioning at the time of the sleeping incident that led to her dismissal.
Lassiter ruled that Hintons problem did not fit within the definition of a disability established by the courts.
Hinton did not prove that she had a present, non-correctible loss of function which substantially impairs a persons ability to function normally, Lassiter wrote.