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Panic Attacks May Be Covered By ADA

Judith Vaughan began experiencing anxiety, depression, and panic attacks while working at Crain Automotive Holdings, LLC. She thought she was having a heart attack at work and went to the hospital. After a couple of days of treatment, she learned that she had a panic attack. Vaughan was released to return to work; upon returning to work she once again began to experience the symptoms of a panic attack. After letting her supervisor know via email what was happening to her, Vaughan left work. When she returned to work a few days later, Vaughan met with two supervisors and was told she was terminated. Vaughan alleged the supervisors told her “it was not working out” because of her health problems and that she should go take care of herself.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued Crain for violation of Vaughan’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Per the EEOC’s complaint, Crain failed to reasonably accommodate Vaughan and fired her based on her disability. Crain moved for summary judgment.
Before the district court in Arkansas, Crain argued Vaughan was not disabled within the meaning of the ADA. The company did not dispute that she suffered from anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. However, Crain argued she was not disabled because Vaughan was able to perform other demanding activities and did not constantly suffer from panic attacks. The court disagreed, finding that a jury could find her disabled because the attacks did interfere with her thinking, breathing, and communicating, all of which are major life activities.
Next, Crain argued that even if Vaughan was disabled, it was not aware of her medical condition at the time that it decided to fire her. This argument was also dismissed by the court because Vaughan told her supervisors she suffered a panic attack, had suffered another one at work, emailed her supervisor that she was “still hurting too bad,” and the company told her she was being fired because of her medical condition. These factors would suggest Crain was aware of her disabilities. Lastly, the failure to accommodate claim will also proceed because Vaughan asserted that she mailed a doctor’s note recommending three weeks off of work, which the supervisor denied receiving. It was a question of fact for the jury whether Crain received the note and failed to engage in the interactive process to accommodate her disability.