A mammography technician who suffered from epilepsy was not a “qualified individual with a disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Missouri Human Rights Act because she was unable to perform the essential functions of her job, even with accommodations, whenever she had a seizure, the federal appeals court in St. Louis has ruled. Olsen v. Capital Region Med. Ctr., No. 12-2113 (8th Cir. May 7, 2013). Affirming summary judgment in favor of the employer, the Court stated that the hospital need not “subject its patients to potential physical and emotional trauma to comply with its duties under the MHRA and the ADA.”

Background

Andrea Olsen worked as a Certified Mammography Technologist for Capital Region Medical Center (“CRMC”) from 1993 until her termination in 2011. Olsen’s duties included performing mammography examinations, positioning patients for the procedure, controlling the equipment, ensuring patient safety, and tending to patients’ physical and psychological needs. Beginning in 2004, Olsen experienced epileptic seizures at work; these caused her to lose orientation and muscle control. As a result, Olsen fell repeatedly and sustained various injuries.

In response to Olsen’s repeated seizures, CRMC placed her on administrative leave in 2008. CRMC also provided numerous accommodations to eliminate environmental triggers to Olsen’s seizures, including removing mold, investigating cleaning agent ingredients, having other technicians handle patients who wore heavy perfumes, 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 co-workers regarding epilepsy and how to treat someone who is seizing. 

After Olsen returned to work, she continued to suffer seizures and sustain injuries, despite CRMC’s accommodations. Between June 2008 and August 2010, Olsen suffered 14 seizures, two of which were in the presence of patients and caused one of the patients to complain to CRMC about the risk Olsen posed to patient safety. CRMC eventually placed Olsen in a temporary file clerk position, but she experienced two more seizures and again was placed on administrative leave.

 In 2011, after a change in her medication, Olsen told CRMC that her seizures were under control. CRMC offered to reinstate Olsen at her prior rate of pay with full benefits, but Olsen rejected this offer and CRMC terminated her. Thereafter, Olsen sued CRMC for disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”), among other things. CRMC asked the district court to dismiss Olsen’s claims. It argued that she was not a qualified individual with a disability because she could not perform the essential functions of her job, even with accommodations. The district court agreed and entered summary judgment in favor of CRMC. Olsen appealed.

Applicable Law

Claims under the ADA and the MHRA are governed by the same standards. Young v. Warner-Jenkinson Co., 152 F.3d 1018 (8th Cir. 1998). To establish a disability discrimination claim under the ADA and MHRA, an employee must show that she is disabled, is qualified to perform the essential functions of her job, with or without accommodation, and suffered an adverse employment action because of her disability. 

Appeal Rejected

Olsen argued she was a qualified individual with a disability because she could perform all of her duties, except during a seizure, and that the only accommodation she required was intermittent leave to recover following a seizure. She further contended that CRMC failed to engage in the interactive process regarding possible accommodations. The Court rejected her arguments.

The Court found that Olsen failed to establish she was a qualified individual under the ADA and MHRA. Even with CRMC’s attempted accommodations, Olsen still suffered from numerous seizures, including two in the presence of patients. An essential function of Olsen’s job included ensuring patient safety, the Court pointed out, but Olsen could not perform that crucial function while she was incapacitated from a seizure. 

Further, the Court rejected Olsen’s claim that intermittent leave was a reasonable accommodation because providing that accommodation did not eliminate the seizures or allow her to perform her essential job functions, including operating sophisticated medical machinery and tending to patients’ physical and emotional needs. 

Finally, the Court found Olsen’s argument that CRMC failed to engage in the interactive process lacked merit. It stated, “CRMC’s attempted accommodations established that it engaged in an interactive process with Olsen regarding her accommodations.” Accordingly, the Court affirmed summary judgment in favor of CRMC and dismissed Olsen’s disability discrimination claims.