• Worker with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome May Be Protected By the ADA
  • July 9, 2009 | Author: Tom H. Luetkemeyer
  • Law Firm: Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP - Chicago Office
  • Thirteen years after being diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (“CFS”), a temporary worker applied for a full-time position with her employer. The employee was required to fill out a health questionnaire, which did not list CFS. The employee was hired as an administrative assistant, which required her to answer phones, write memos and compile reports. After the employer’s office was moved, the employee began working longer hours and experiencing health problems, including low-grade fevers, headaches, disorientation, stiff joints, and memory problems. She was unable to sit or walk for more than 30 minutes at a time, became hypersensitive to light and sound, and experienced crying episodes and feelings of social isolation. After the employee’s doctor directed her to seek leave from work and request a transfer to a work location closer to her home, she was fired. The employer claimed that the employee had not disclosed the condition on her pre-employment health questionnaire, and fired her for failing to disclose this information. The EEOC sued the employer on behalf of a fired employee, asserting discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The trial court dismissed the case, ruling that the EEOC could not prove the employee was disabled under the ADA. The Fifth Circuit disagreed, and instead held that the fired employee provided sufficient evidence that she was substantially limited in the major life activities of sleeping, thinking and caring for herself. Although sleeping and thinking are not expressly mentioned in the ADA as major activities, the court reasoned that both functions are certainly of central importance to daily life, the standard set by the Supreme Court. The Fifth Circuit therefore held that even intermittent and non-permanent impairments can be sufficient to state a claim under the ADA if the employee is suffering an ADA disability at the time of discharge. Employers must be careful in how they treat employees with various medical conditions, and should take the directions of an employee’s physician seriously.

    EEOC v. Chevron Phillips Chem. Co., No. 07-20661 (5th Cir. June 5, 2009)