Law & Medicine

How the ADA shapes health care


 

In 2004, a case reached the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals regarding Cathy Fiscus, an employee at a Walmart Sam’s Club warehouse store in Pittsburgh, who faced being terminated after 12 years at her job. A lower U.S. district court had ruled in favor of the company, agreeing with Walmart that the woman’s end-stage renal disease had not left her significantly limited in a major life activity. Ms. Fiscus sought a reasonable accommodation from her employer during the period of her peritoneal dialysis, which required her to self administer the 45-minute dialysis process at the workplace. Walmart initially agreed, but later declined. The appeals court overturned the lower court’s ruling, writing, “A physical impairment that limits an individual’s ability to cleanse and eliminate body waste does impair a major life activity.”3

Not all conditions are covered by the ADA’s definition of disability. The list includes temporary physical or mental impairments, current illegal drug use, predisposition to illness, personality traits, advanced age, and pregnancy, to name a few.

To avoid running afoul of the ADA, an employer is required to make “reasonable accommodations” for the disabled employee. This refers to practices that allow a disabled person to perform the essential functions of the job.

Examples of reasonable accommodations include making existing facilities readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, restructuring jobs, modifying work schedules, and providing qualified readers or interpreters.

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