A mammography tech with epilepsy is not a qualified individual with a disability under the ADA because she cannot perform the essential functions of her job "during the indefinite periods in which she was incapacitated," according to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Olsen v. Capital Region Medical Center (8th Cir. May 7, 2013). We had posted previously about the district court’s decision granting the employer summary judgment on plaintiff’s ADA claim.

During seizures, the tech would lose consciousness for several minutes.  Twice she had a seizure while conducting mammogram examinations on patients. In affirming summary judgment, the court also rejected plaintiff’s argument that her employer failed to accommodate her by providing her "intermittent rest" because rest did not eliminate the seizures and did not allow her to perform her essential job functions during her periods of temporary incapacity. "The hospital need not subject its patients to potential physical and emotional trauma to comply with its duties" under the ADA, the court added.

Prior to the ADA Amendments Act, some courts had held that an employee who loses consciousness at work periodically was not "disabled" because the episodes were intermittent and, as a result, were not substantially limiting. As a result of the ADAAA, the medical conditions leading to the loss of consciousness are likely "disabilities." The Eighth Circuit’s holding that an employee who passes out at work as a result of such a medical condition is not a qualified individual with a disability provides employers much needed guidance in responding to these situations.

A week after the Olsen decision, the EEOC issued “Questions and Answers about Epilepsy in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act.” The Q’s and A’s do not discuss whether an individual with epilepsy who has seizures at work is a qualified individual with a disability, although it notes that an employer may need to provide “a private areas to rest after [an employee has] a seizure” as a reasonable accommodation.