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Nurse's Inability to Drive to Work Is Not a Substantial Limitation of Major Life Activity

  • April 12, 2002

A county nurse who temporarily was unable to drive herself to work because she was taking medication to control epilepsy was not entitled to an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act to allow her to work from home. Ruling in favor of the employer, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit agreed that the nurse's inability to drive to work was not a substantial limitation of a major life activity, and she was not "disabled" within the meaning of the ADA.

As part of her job of reviewing hospital patient files, the nurse drove between different sites, as well as to and from work. She was diagnosed with epilepsy and prescribed seizure control medication which restricted her from driving until she was seizure-free for six months. During that time she requested that she be able to work from home several days per week and that the employer vary her office schedule to meet her transportation needs. Although the employer agreed to eliminate her travel between work sites, it was not able to accommodate her request to work from home.

The nurse filed a lawsuit against the employer for violation of her rights under the ADA. However, both the trial court and appeals court agreed the nurse was not disabled since driving was not a major life activity. The court acknowledged that in our automobile society, driving may, indeed, rise to the level of a major life activity, but the inability to drive oneself to work cannot be compared to substantial impairments of major life activities, such as the inability to see or to learn. Although the nurse also argued the seizure control medication substantially limited her ability to reproduce, which is a major life activity, the court found this limitation unrelated to the nurse's work or her request for accommodation. [Chenoweth v. Hillsborough County, U.S., No. 01-841, cert. denied, 2/19/02, 250 F.3d 1328 (11th Cir. 2001).]

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