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Cancer Is Not Automatic Disability Under ADA

The Third Circuit Court of Appeal has emphasized that each American with Disabilities Act (ADA) claim requires its own analysis of whether an illness will qualify as a disability.

Joanie Alston worked as a Director of Nursing for Park Pleasant. Approximately six months into her hire, a new supervisor was put in place. She and this new supervisor clashed. This new supervisor complained about Ms. Alston’s performance and she was placed on an improvement plan. Five days later, Ms. Alston had a biopsy, which resulted in a breast cancer diagnosis. Her relationship with her supervisors continued to worsen, with her ultimately being terminated. Ms. Alston sued based on several discrimination theories, all of which she lost on summary judgment. Ms. Alston appealed the ADA claim to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

Cancer will generally be a qualifying disability under the ADA, according to the court of appeals. However, the ADA demanded an individualized assessment. Ms. Alston had to establish that her cancer substantially impaired at least one major life activity. She had not alleged that her cancer had limited any of her major life activities. In fact, at her deposition, Ms. Alston had testified that she was not substantially limited in any major life activity, including her work, her ability to drive, or her ability to take care of herself. Thus, in this instance, cancer did not qualify as a disability.