ADA: Employee Suffering from Colitis, Anxiety & Insomnia has Disability Discrimination Claims

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination at the workplace. Congress rejected the Supreme Court’s narrow interpretations of the ADA in enacting the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAAA”), including the definition of disability which is now to be construed in favor of broad coverage of employees. The ADAAA also clarified the “regarded as” prong of the definition of a disability so that if employer mis-perceives an employee’s capabilities so that the employer believes that the Plaintiff has a substantially limiting impairment that the Plaintiff does not have, or that the Plaintiff has a substantially limiting impairment when, in fact, the impairment is not so limiting, the employee may have a “regarded as disabled” claim.

The expanded interpretation of the term disability was recently recognized in Riley v. St Mary Medical, 2014 U.S. Dist. Lexis 72366 (E. D. Pa. May 27, 2014)(Joyner, J.),where the court reconsidered its prior decision and held that the Plaintiff employee, a nurse, alleged sufficient facts to give rise to an inference of disability discrimination because the employee pled that she is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job at issue, as evidenced by her ten-year service in her position; she was terminated because of her disability; she discussed her disabilities with the employer; she was admonished for complaining about derogatory comments made about her by another employee; she received a poor annual evaluation; and she was terminated after being scheduled for fewer and fewer shifts as the Charge Nurse and she was eventually replaced by a non-disabled nurse.

In Riley, the court found that the employee could proceed under the ADA because she had a history of suffering from colitis, anxiety, insomnia, and other cognitive disabilities which limited her ability to enjoy several major life activities, including but not limited to sleeping, concentrating, communicating, and thinking, While the Court previously held that Plaintiff had provided no facts illuminating to what extent or how her activities are “limited”, in reconsidering its earlier decision, the court held that the employees’ factual allegations were sufficient under the ADAAA even though the Complaint did not specifically detail the nature of the limitations caused by the disability. The court held that although the plaintiff’s allegation of the existence of a specific limitation, along with the life activities it impacts, is general, applying the liberalized standard, an employee who is allegedly limited in sleeping, concentrating, communicating and thinking, suggests that she might be substantially limited in those major life activities, thus, the Plaintiff adequately pled that she has a disability under the ADAAA.

In Riley, the court also held that the facts were sufficient to plead a “regarded as” having a disability claim because after being informed about Plaintiff’s impairments, the Plaintiff employee’s allegations that she was told she was “too slow” and “was not smart enough,” that she informed her employer of her physical and mental impairments and subsequently was admonished, warned not to make human resources complaints, received a poor evaluation, did not receive a raise, and was ultimately terminated, reasonably suggest that her employer regarded Plaintiff as having a disability. In fact, the court found that a case of ongoing disability harassment was substantiated even though in Plaintiff’s case, she discussed her disabilities with the employer two years before receiving a poor annual evaluation and she was not fired until four years after the employer and employee discussed her disabilities.

Disability claims often present complex issues. For more information on the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, Disability Discrimination, and Abramson Employment Law, see


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Filed under Americans with Disabilities Act - Disability Discrimination, Retaliation

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