Before applying for work, Netterville had been symptom-free of the syndrome for 13 years. In mid-2002, Netterville experienced a reoccurrence of chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms, which included joint pain, sleeplessness, inability to concentrate and excessive fatigue in ordinary tasks. She was initially granted a medical leave, but on her return to work was terminated for lying on her pre-employment medical questionnaire.
The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission filed suit alleging that Chevron had discriminated against Netterville and failed to accommodate her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court dismissed the lawsuit in favor of Chevron, saying that because Netterville’s symptoms occurred intermittently and were “short-lived, non-permanent, and non-severe,” her condition did not rise to the level of an ADA-protected disability.
On appeal, the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit found that Netterville’s illness was a chronic disease covered by the ADA, and she was substantially limited in the major life activities of sleeping, thinking and caring for herself. A jury could conclude that the decision to terminate Netterville after her announcement of the syndrome’s reoccurrence was pretext for unlawful bias. EEOC v. Chevron Phillips Chem. Co., 5th Cir., No. 07-20661 (6/5/09).
Impact: Employers should consider engaging in the ADA interactive process for a range of employee illnesses and conditions, even for illnesses that appear to be in remission. Subsequent amendments to the ADA, which became effective January 1, 2009, provide that employees with medical conditions in remission may be covered by the act.
Workforce Management, December 14, 2009, p. 8 -- Subscribe Now!The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.