State worker fired for sleeping on the job doesn't get her job back

Staff writerApril 7, 2010 

— 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 didn’t know if she would pursue the case further.

“I haven’t 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 Hinton’s 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 person’s ability to function normally,” Lassiter wrote.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service