Eighth Circuit: Hospital Technician with Epilepsy Not "Qualified Individual" Under ADA or Missouri Law

In a recent decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Capital Region Medical Center (CRMC) in the case Olsen v. Capital Region Medical Center. The plaintiff, Andrea Olsen, alleged that CRMC, her employer, engaged in unlawful disability discrimination when it placed her on administrative leave following worked-related epileptic seizures.

CRMC hired Olsen as a Certified Mammography Technologist in 1993. Olsen's job position required her to perform mammography examinations in which she was responsible for operating radiographic equipment and performing radiographic procedures. The job also required Olsen to tend to patients' physical and psychological needs. Olsen's first seizure was in 2004. After several subsequent seizures, CRMC placed Olsen on paid administrative leave. While on leave, CRMC made a number of accommodations in an effort to eliminate environmental triggers to Olsen's seizures, including removing mold, investigating cleaning agent ingredients, having other technicians handle patients, installing anti-glare filters on lights, eliminating scrolling from computers, covering x-ray films to reduce brightness, permitting Olsen to wear sunglasses, and educating Olsen's coworkers regarding Epilepsy and how to treat someone who suffers a seizure. Olsen eventually returned to work but continued to suffer seizures despite CRMC's accommodations.

Between June 2008 and August 2010, Olsen suffered fourteen seizures. The seizures caused her various injuries. CRMC eventually placed Olsen in an alternative position as a temporary file clerk. Olsen continued to have seizures and was again placed on administrative leave. After Olsen notified CRMC that her seizures were under control, CRMC offered to reinstate Olsen but she rejected this offer. CRMC eventually terminated her.

In 2009, Olsen filed discrimination charges with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that CRMC unlawfully discriminated against her on the basis of disability, age, and retaliation, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA). After the filing of a lawsuit and the case proceeding through discovery, CRMC moved for summary judgment, contending that Olsen was not qualified for the position. The district court granted CRMC's motion for summary judgment, concluding that Olsen was not, in fact, qualified under the ADA or MHRA because "it was not possible for her to carry out the essential functions of her position, during the time she was having a seizure."

On appeal, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's award of summary judgment, finding that Olsen was not a "qualified individual" for purposes of the ADA or MHRA. Under the ADA, an employee must show that: (1) she is disabled; (2) she is qualified to perform the essential functions of [her] job, with or without accommodation; and (3) [she] suffered an adverse employment action under circumstances from which an inference of unlawful discrimination could be inferred. The legal test under Missouri law is substantially similar. The Court noted that a "qualified individual" is one "who, with our without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions" of her position. Even with CRMC's accommodations, Olsen still suffered from seizures which prevented her from performing one of the essential functions of the job: insure patient safety. There was no evidence that Olsen could do so during the periods in which she was incapacitated. Because Olsen was not a "qualified individual" to perform the job duties of a Certified Mammography Technician with or without accommodation, the Court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of CRMC.

If you believe you have been discriminated against at work because of a disability or a medical condition, you should contact a St. Louis employment lawyer.