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Future Possibility of Ebola is Not a Disability

Kimberly Lowe had a trip to Ghana planned at the height of the Ebola outbreak. At the time of her trip, she was working as a massage therapist for Massage Envy in Tampa, Florida. Her employer had approved the vacation but she was fired just three days before her scheduled departure. The company purportedly told her that it was "out of concern that 'she would be infected with Ebola if she traveled to Ghana' and that she would bring it home and infect [the company's] employees and clients upon her return." 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought suit on Ms. Lowe's behalf. It was the agency's position that Massage Envy violated the "regarded as" prong of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under that portion of the ADA, the employee has to demonstrate that he or she was subjected to an adverse action because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment. The EEOC asserted that employers can violate this element based upon misconceptions about a person's potential to become disabled in the future. 

Massage Envy moved to dismiss the litigation, arguing that the EEOC's suit was “nonsensical.” The federal district court rejected the EEOC's suit and refused to expand the definition of "regarded as" to instances where the employer saw a healthy employee with only the potential to become disabled due to voluntary conduct. This case was dismissed.