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11th Circuit: Employee with Cancer Not Disabled

By Gregory J. Hare and Rayna H. Jones   1/18/2008
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The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that an employee with breast cancer was not substantially limited in a major life activity and therefore was not disabled under the Rehabilitation Act.

Patricia Garrett brought suit alleging disability discrimination and retaliation with respect to a demotion. Garrett was a director of nursing when she developed breast cancer. To treat her cancer, Garrett underwent two surgical procedures, chemotherapy and radiation. Garrett alleged that the side effects of her cancer treatment disabled her, as she was substantially limited in the major life activities of caring for herself, performing manual tasks, lifting and working. Specifically, she alleged that she had difficulty sleeping, hot flashes, fatigue and diarrhea as well as limited use of her right arm due to complications from surgery. When she returned to work, she complained that although she could complete all of her duties, she required additional time and needed frequent breaks attributable to fatigue.

In determining whether Garrett had a disability under the Rehabilitation Act, the 11th Circuit looked at the regulations and case law under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for guidance. The court held that she was not disabled because “the most severe periods of limitation that Garrett suffered during her cancer treatment were short term, temporary and contemporaneous with her treatment.” Although the limitations were severe, the court held they were not evidence of a disability because of their short-term and temporary nature.

Garrett v. University of Alabama , 11th Cir., Nos. 05-10833 & 05-11110 (Nov. 15, 2007).

Professional Pointer: Garrett also brought claims under the ADA, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that those claims were properly dismissed because the ADA did not permit private individuals to sue states for money damages ( University of Alabama. v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356 (2001)).

Ogletree Deakins is a national law firm that provides counsel to companies in all areas of employment and labor law. Gregory J. Hare is a shareholder and Rayna H. Jones is an associate in the firm’s Atlanta office.

Related Resource:

ADA Toolkit

Editor’s Note: This article should not be construed as legal advice.

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