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Migraine Sufferer Not Disabled in ADA Claim

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

Migraines may be painful, but employers may not be required to make special accommodations for migraine-plagued employees under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Last month, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that migraines may satisfy the impairment prong of an ADA claim, but they do not automatically trigger ADA disability protections.

Alethia Allen sued her former employer, SouthCrest Hospital, alleging that SouthCrest failed to accommodate her disability and terminated her employment. Allen, who suffered from migraines during her employment with SouthCrest, tendered her resignation in 2009. Though Allen's request for Family and Medical Leave Act leave to care for her daughter had been denied on the business day prior to her resignation, Allen claimed she resigned because of her migraines and hypertension.

Three days before the scheduled last day with SouthCrest, Allen offered to work past her resignation date to cover for employees who would be out of the office for vacation the following business day. SouthCrest authorized Allen to cover for the employees, but refused to return her resignation letter, despite the fact that Allen later tried to rescind her resignation.

The SouthCrest doctors ultimately decided against permitting the rescission due to performance issues. A few months later, the migraines stopped, and Allen sued SouthCrest for failure to accomodate and wrongful termination.

The district court granted SouthCrest's motion for summary judgment, finding that Allen had not established that she was disabled for the purpose of an ADA claim. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court.

A person is "disabled" under the ADA if she suffers from "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities." To satisfy this definition, a plaintiff must have a recognized impairment, and show that the impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities. While the Tenth Circuit agreed with Allen that her migraines constituted an impairment, the court ruled that she had failed to demonstrate that the migraines limited a major life activity.

Allen argued that she could not care for herself when she had migraines; instead, she could only to take medication and go to bed. The Tenth Circuit found that a mere assertion that Allen took medication and slept after arriving at home for an unspecified period when undergoing a migraine attack rather than caring for herself was insufficient to meet her burden of proof that the migraines limited a major life activity.

Migraines may be a pain, but they are not painful enough to trigger a presumption in the Tenth Circuit that a sufferer is entitled to ADA claim disability protections.

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