No Claim for Depressed Employee Who Can’t Work

By James Hatch

Feb. 29, 2008

Elizabeth Rask worked two days a week as a kidney dialysis technician for Fresenius Medical Care North America, where she cared for seriously ill patients. After she failed to report to work on May 28, 2004, and due to her pattern of absences, Rask was fired. Rask alleged that she had notified her two supervisors of her struggle with depression when she told them that she was experiencing problems with her medication and that “I might need to miss a day here and there because of it.”

    Rask brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, alleging that Fresenius violated the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act by discriminating against her because of her depression. She also asserted that the absences that led to her termination were protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act as she suffered a “serious health condition,” which would qualify her for unpaid leave under the statute. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer on all claims.

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit held that Rask was not a “qualified individual” under the ADA. Because Rask was unable to work on a regular and consistent basis, she was not able to perform an essential function of her job, and therefore was not a qualified individual under the statute.

    The court found that “the ability to take sudden, unscheduled absences would not have assisted Ms. Rask in performing the duties of her particular job; they would have been for her personal benefit.” Finally, the court also agreed that Rask had failed to put Fresenius on notice that she had a serious health condition that would make her eligible for FMLA leave. Rask v. Fresenius Medical Care North America, 8th Cir., No. 06-3923 (12/6/07).

    Impact: An employee who cannot perform essential job duties of regular and predictable attendance, regardless of his or her alleged disability, is not ADA protected.

    Workforce Management,February 18, 2008, p. 8Subscribe Now!

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