Second Circuit: Migraines Insufficient to Support a Disability Under the ADA
The Second Circuit recently held that an employer did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act when it refused to transfer, and then terminated, an employee because of his inability to perform his job due to migraines caused by the stress of his job. Woolf v. Strada. In this case, Plaintiff began to suffer migraines that left him temporarily incapacitated and which negatively impaired his work. Plaintiff alleged that his migraines were related to stress at work, which worsened when he received negative performance reviews. Plaintiff provided medical documentation and requested a transfer. The Company denied the transfer because of his poor performance reviews. However, it granted his request for intermittent medical leave with full pay. After he received another poor performance review, Plaintiff was discharged.
The Second Circuit found for the employer, holding that “where a plaintiff’s condition leaves him unable to perform only a single, specific job, ‘he has failed to establish a substantial impairment to his major life activity of working.’” Because Plaintiff did not attempt to show that his work-causing migraines limited his ability to work in a range of jobs, the Court concluded that there was no ADA violation. While it might have been a safer course of action to have transferred him and continued progressive discipline, the discharge was found to be lawful.
It should be noted that this result would not be the same under many state and local laws that provide broader coverage than the ADA (including not requiring a showing of substantial limitation on a major life activity).