Wednesday, February 8, 2012

10th Circuit Holds Migraines Not a Disability Under the ADA

Despite the fact the 2008 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act were enacted to make it easier for plaintiffs to qualify as individuals with disabilities, the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has delivered a decision that does the opposite of that intent.  In Allen v. Southcrest Hospital, No. 11-5016, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 25488 (10th Cir. Dec. 21, 2011), the plaintiff transferred to work for a particular doctor, who had a busy practice that was especially hectic on the three days during the doctor’s compressed office hours. Shortly after the transfer, the plaintiff claimed that she began having migraines. These migraines varied in severity - as some days she could go to work, while other days she had to stay home - and she was prescribed medication for the pain. In August 2009, after requesting and being denied FMLA leave and allegedly being denied a reasonable accommodation for her migraines, the plaintiff resigned, because of “migraines and hypertension.” Although she later tried to rescind the resignation, the employer told her that her resignation was accepted the day she tendered it and that her employment was terminated.


Upon filing both federal FMLA and ADA claims, the employer moved for summary judgment arguing the plaintiff was not disabled as defined under the ADA and the district court granted the motion.  On appeal, the 10th Circuit noted that the plaintiff had to show that: (1) she had a recognized “impairment;” and (2) the impairment substantially limited one or more of her major life activities.  It was undisputed that the migraines were an "impairment" but what was disputed was whether the plaintiff was substantially limited in one or more of her major life activities.  The plaintiff claimed that the migraines affected her ability to “work,” to “care for herself,” and to “sleep.”
 
The employer was able to prevail on appeal but critiquing the plaintiff's daily routines both when she had migraine pains and when she didn't.  The 10th Circuit was not persuaded that the plaintiff's migraines as an impairment "substantially limited her in one or more of her major life activities."  

This decision does not mean that migraines are not disabilities ever under the ADA as disability discrimination cases are a case-by-case evaluation.  It may be that a different plaintiff suffering from migraines may very well be substantially limited in major life activities to qualify as an individual with a disability under the ADA.

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