Ethan Vinson, Partner in our Livonia office, recently obtained dismissal in favor of his community college client. In this case, the plaintiff, a nursing student at the community college, filed state and federal disability discrimination claims against the community college.
The plaintiff left the nursing program because she would frequently become ill from exposure to latex products. She alleged that the community college violated the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) by failing to accommodate her allergy.
Mr. Vinson argued that the plaintiff’s ADA claim should be dismissed because her latex allergy is not a disability within the meaning of the ADA. He explained, “Under the ADA, ‘disability’ is defined as a ‘physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities’ of an individual.” Accordingly, in order to conclude that a person is disabled, a court must find:
- there is physical impairment,
- the physical impairment affects a major life activity identified by the plaintiff, and
- the physical impairment substantially limits that life activity.
Mr. Vinson recognized that the plaintiff’s allergy is a physical impairment and that “learning” is the pertinent major life activity, consequently the plaintiff satisfied two of the three components required to establish her disability. However, the third component of whether the plaintiff’s latex allergy substantially limits her ability to learn, was not established.
In their ruling, the Court was not persuaded by the plaintiff’s arguments that her allergy substantially limits her ability to learn. To constitute a disability under the ADA, the plaintiff’s physical impairment must limit learning in general. “Properly understood then, learning is a major life function, but learning to be a nurse is not” the Court ruled.
The Court further explained, “While it may be true that the plaintiff’s latex allergy hindered her ability to study nursing, there is no evidence- by way of allegation or otherwise- that the plaintiff’s allergy prevented her from successfully completing a course of study in mathematics, teaching, social work, or any other field where direct exposure to latex would be a non-issue.” In fact, the plaintiff earned two other degrees.
The Court agreed with Mr. Vinson’s arguments, granted the motion for summary disposition and dismissed the plaintiff’s lawsuit.
Ethan Vinson, a partner in our Livonia office, concentrates his practice on municipal law, labor and employment law, insurance law, and law enforcement defense. He can be reached at (734) 261-2400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.