Another legal victory highlighting migraine as a disability in the workplace was secured recently when a United States District Court judge denied Westar Energy’s motion to dismiss a claim brought against them under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Kansas Acts Against Discrimination (KAAD).
The case stems from the company’s termination of an employee—the Plaintiff in the case—in May 2014 for “excessive absenteeism” on account of her migraine attacks. She claimed that her migraines, which occurred at a rate of one attack every 1-2 months, were so debilitating that they hindered her ability to function in the workplace; this often required her to miss the remainder of the work day and sometimes the ensuing day. Furthermore, she stated that she notified the company’s Human Resources department of her condition upon termination, at which time she alleges they told her that migraine attacks “are not a cognizable disability and that she had no right to any reasonable accommodations.”* This led her to file the complaint against Westar Energy.
It is Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act which requires a business to offer “reasonable accommodations” for a qualified employee with a disability. This can include modifications to the work environment, adjustments to the employee’s work schedule, job restructuring or reassignment, and more, as long as it does not pose undue hardship for the company.
An examination of the case showed that the court believed the Plaintiff put forth enough plausible testimony in the initial stages of the case to deny the company’s request for dismissal in January of this year. Although the court noted that past legal proceedings have conflicting conclusions on whether migraine is a disability as defined by the ADA, it recognized that she presented sufficient facts to move forward with the claim. In other words, the court confirmed that Westar Energy may have violated the ADA.
One thing this case reinforces is the need for greater education and awareness of chronic conditions and how they affect working professionals, especially the stigma of migraine. In addition, there has to be better and more open dialogue between employer and employee in order to address issues of migraine and light sensitivity in the workplace. Regardless, we will continue to pay attention to how this case unfolds and what it means for migraineurs.
Bethscheider v. Westar Energy, Case No. 16-4006-CM (D. Kan. Jan. 13, 2017)