In Sulima v. Tobyhanna Army Depot et al., No. 08-4684 (3d Cir. Apr. 12, 2010), the Third Circuit addressed when an employee may bring suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) based on conditions caused by medication. Employee Ed Sulima needed more time than most employees for restroom breaks. How much time you ask? Well, on one day in 2008 he spent approximately two hours in the restroom in one shift! While Mr. Sulima was morbidly obese and suffered from sleep apnea, these conditions did not create his bathroom issues. Instead, the culprit was Mr. Sulima’s weight loss medication.
So, are Mr. Sulima’s medication-induced gastrointestinal problems a disability under the ADA? It turns out they are not. But more importantly, the side effects from treatment and medication can constitute a disability under the three-prong test utilized by the Court in Sulima:
(1) the treatment is required “in the prudent judgment of the medical profession,”
(2) the treatment is not just an “attractive option,” and
(3) that the treatment is not required solely in anticipation of an impairment resulting from the plaintiff’s voluntary choices.
This test was first laid out by the Seventh Circuit in Christian v. St. Anthony Medical Center, Inc., 117 F.3d 1051 (7th Cir. 1997). It is now the test in the Third Circuit as well.
In Mr. Sulima’s case, his medication was not “required in the prudent judgment of the medical profession” as evidenced by the fact that his doctor took him off the medication when learning of the side effects.
Sulima included a few additional interesting tidbits. First, in addition to addressing whether Mr. Sulima had an actual disability, the Court also analyzed whether he was “regarded as” having a disability. He was not. His employer knew his problems were side effects of medication and Mr. Sulima explained to them that his medication could be changed.
Second, Mr. Sulima argued that he was retaliated against for requesting an accommodation under the ADA. This does not require an actual disability but does require a “reasonable, good faith belief that [he] was entitled to request the reasonable accommodation [he] requested.” The Court found that Mr. Sulima lacked this “good faith belief” because he knew his condition was temporary and that he could change medications.
Finally, the Court applied the “old ADA” and not the new ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA). The Court did not analyze the issue, noting only that “[t]he parties here have not argued that these amendments have retroactive effect.”