Employment-Eighth Circuit Rules That An Employee Who Has Epileptic Seizures At Work Does Not Qualify To Bring An ADA Claim

In Olsen v. Capital Region Medical Center, No. 12-2113 (8th Cir. 2013), the district court granted summary judgment against the plaintiff, Adrea Olsen (“Olsen”), on her claim (among others) of violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (the “ADA”), and Olsen appealed.

In this case, Olsen was employed by the Capital Regional Medical Center (“CRMC”) as a mammography technician. Olsen, who has epilepsy, suffered numerous seizures at work. After Olsen was unable to reduce her seizures with CRMC’s office accommodations, CRMC placed Olsen on unpaid administrative leave. CRMC offered to reinstate Olsen after learning Olsen was taking medicine that successfully controlled the seizures. Olsen refused this offer and CRMC eventually terminated her. Olsen then brought this suit claiming an ADA violation.

In analyzing the ADA claim, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) noted that, to succeed in a claim of ADA violation, the plaintiff must, among other things, be disabled and be a “qualified individual”, that is one who, with or without reasonable accommodation, and despite the disability, can perform the essential functions of her position.
The Court found it undisputed that Olsen was disabled, because Olsen suffered from seizures which, when occurring, incapacitated her and prevented her from performing her job duties. But the Court held that Olsen failed to establish that she is a “qualified individual” for ADA purposes. Even with the CRMC’s attempted accommodations, Olsen still suffered from numerous seizures. An essential function of Olsen’s job included insuring patient safety. Nothing in the record establishes Olsen could adequately perform that function during the indefinite periods in which she was incapacitated. A hospital need not subject its patients to potential physical and emotional trauma to comply with its duties under the ADA. The Court concluded that, since Olsen was not a qualified individual to perform the job duties with or without accommodation, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to CRMC on Olsen’s ADA claim.