Skip to navigation
Medical Records

Court Awards Hewlett Packard Employee Long-Term Disability Benefits for Numbness and Pain in Back and Neck

L. Jason Cornell, Esq. April 3, 2023

A federal court in Colorado awarded a former employee of Hewlett Packard long-term disability benefits due in part to the employee’s stiffness, numbness and pain in his back, neck, hands and feet. The employee worked at Hewlett Packard as a IT Customer Service Representative.  Starting in March of 2016, the employee’s doctor diagnosed him with rheumatoid arthritis.  According to an attending physician’s report supporting the disability, the employee’s condition was “an extreme onset” which prevented the employee from working.

To support the employee’s diagnosis and disability, the employee was referred to a specialist who noted his patient had an “active disease” who tested positive for several rheumatoid arthritis tests including having a rheumatoid factor of 160 when a normal result is 15, as well as a cyclic citrullinated peptide of 250  when a normal score is less than 20.  Despite treating the patient with various medications like Humira and steroid injections, the symptoms worsened.  The employee’s doctor later diagnosed him with fibromyalgia due in part to his joint pain, fatigue and muscle spasms.

Eventually the employee’s doctor limited his activities to one hour of walking, standing and sitting each day.  By 2017, the treating doctors concluded that the condition was persistent and disabling. One physician limited his standing, sitting and walking to four hours per day and noted that he did not expect the condition to improve. Another doctor ordered that the employee not engage in any typing due to swelling and pain in his hands.

The claims administrator for Hewlett Packard sent the employee for an independent medical exam.  The reviewing doctor there concluded that the employee suffered from inactive rheumatoid arthritis which was “minimal at best.” The reviewing doctor recommended the employee type in 20 minute intervals, however, he did not recommend any restrictions for lifting, pushing, puling, walking, standing or sitting. 

The employee applied for and received disability benefits under Hewlett Packard’s disability plan. Approximately two years in, however, the claims administrator re-evaluated the employee’s eligibility for benefits.  After the administrator sent the employee for a medical exam, it denied long-term disability benefits. The administrator, Segwick Claims, concluded that the employee could perform his prior job duties based on the conclusions of the doctors hired by the administrator. 

The employee eventually sued his employer in federal court arguing that the claims administrator had wrongfully denied benefits.  The court initially rejected the employee’s arguments that the claims administrator’s decision was arbitrary to the extend the administrator relied on the conclusions of its reviewing doctors.  The court, however, agreed with the employee when it found that the claims administrator improperly relied on a report stating that the employee could work in 20 minute intervals. 

According the flawed report, the employee could type for 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off. The administrator interpreted this to mean the employee could type for 40 minutes per hour, or 5.33 hours per day. Read correctly, however, the report showed that the employee could only type for four (4) hours per day.  This, the court noted, “could make a substantial difference in plaintiff’s employability in various computer-based jobs.” 

The court also found that the report relied upon by the insurer failed to explain how the employee can perform his job duties despite having a substantial job restriction. Looking to other cases, the court explained that courts have reversed an insurer’s denial when it relied on the conclusions of a doctor that did not consider all of the employee’s job requirements. Based on this, the court ruled in favor of the employee, finding that the insurer failed to adequately explain the grounds for its decision to deny benefits. 

The decision is Johnson v. Hewlett Packard Enterprises Co, No. 19-cv-01878, 2021 WL 2254965 (D.Col. June 3, 2021).