Tenth Circuit Holds Employee’s Migraines Not a Disability Under ADA


In a signal that the courts do not regard the 2008 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a basis to declare every ailment or condition to be a “disability” under federal law, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit recently held that a plaintiff who was diagnosed with migraine headaches was not “disabled” under the ADA. Allen v. Southcrest Hospital, No. 11-5016, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 25488 (10th Cir. Dec. 21, 2011). Employers should not get too excited, however, as the court did not declare that migraines can never be a disability. It did clarify, in a manner that likely will be helpful for employers faced with ADA litigation, what an employee must establish to claim the ADA’s protections.

The plaintiff was a medical assistant, working in a medical practice. The allegations at issue in the case began after she 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...

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