ME/CFS Patient Wins ADA Lawsuit

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Business Management Daily reports of a June 5th court decision where the 5th Circuit ruled that CFS is a permanent disability that is subject to the new ADA accommodation rules put in to place January 1, 2009.

Case in Point: Lorin Netterville was diagnosed with CFS in the late 1980s, but she had lived symptom-free for many years. That ended soon after she began work as an administrative aide for Chevron. She suffered a relapse of her CFS, whose symptoms include joint pain, inability to concentrate and excessive fatigue after ordinary tasks.

Netterville asked for two accommodations. First, she asked for leave, which was granted. Second, she asked for permission to take more frequent breaks and to alternate job tasks. Chevron never responded to the second request.
Eventually, Netterville was terminated for allegedly misrepresenting her medical history on a pre-hire questionnaire because she failed to state that shed been diagnosed with CFS.

Netterville sued Chevron for violating her ADA rights. The key question was whether or not Netterville was suffering an ADA-qualifying disability at the time of her firing. Employees are covered under the ADA if they have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. The new ADA Amendments Act, which took effect on Jan. 1, broadened the meaning of substantially limits and, thus, more Americans are now eligible for ADA accommodations at their jobs.

The lower court dismissed her claim, agreeing with Chevron that Netterville was not protected under the ADA because she was in remission at the time. She then brought her case to 5th Circuit appeals court. The ruling could be a harbinger for ADA cases going forward. (EEOC v. Chevron Phillips Chem. Co., 5th Cir., 6/5/09)

What happened next and what lessons can be learned?

The court reversed the lower court ruling and sided with Netterville. It said that although temporary, non-chronic impairments, such as broken arms, are not ADA-covered disabilities, the consensus of the medical community is that CFS is a chronic disease of indefinite duration for which there is no known cure.

The court added, As the Supreme Court has noted in the context of evaluating whether a limitation is substantial, an impairment does not have to be completely disabling to qualify under the ADA. Moreover, the assessment of whether an individual is disabled is made not just with respect to the workplace, but also by looking at the effect of the impairment on the individual's entire life.
This decision should be of substantial interest to the "walking wounded" out there who struggle to work part or even full-time.
 

Jody

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Wow. Fantastic.

This is wonderful news. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

Jody