Can the side effects of prescription medications qualify as disabilities all by themselves?
The answer’s yes, according to a recent federal appeals court ruling.
It’s an intriguing case: A civilian employee at the Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania was diagnosed with sleep apnea. His doctors said it was probably caused by his obesity.
In order to help him lose weight — and lessen the symptoms of the sleep disorder — the man was prescribed a medication designed to “bind” some of the fat in his diet. The problem, to put it elegantly, was that the medicine made him have to go to the rest room. A lot.
One workday, according to court papers, the man spent two hours in the bathroom.
Eventually, the man was let go in a layoff. He sued, saying he’d been terminated because of his disability — the side effects of the prescribed weight-loss meds.
Employee had option to change
The key fact in the case: The man didn’t claim his morbid obesity or sleep apnea were disabilities. So the question for the court amounted to: Were the man’s bathroom difficulties — caused by his weight loss medicine — covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
The judge said no — but only because the employee had the option to ask his doctor to change his meds.
In other circumstances, the judge ruled, side effects from medication and medical treatments could qualify as disabilities. The court cited three scenarios:
- The treatment is required “in the prudent judgment of the medical profession”
- The treatment is not just an “attractive option”, and
- The treatment is not required solely in anticipation of an impairment resulting from the (patient’s) voluntary choices.
Because the man had other options for treatment, his prescription didn’t fall under the umbrella of “required in the prudent judgment of the medical profession,” the court ruled.
Cite: Sulima v. Tobbyhanna Army Depot et al.