The ADA protects Americans from discrimination based on disability. But to be classified as disabled, employees and applicants have to show that they have more than transient or minor problems. Even a diagnosis is only a starting point since different conditions affect people in varied ways.
Each individual is assessed based on his or her unique situation to see whether the condition underlying a diagnosis substantially impairs a major life function when compared to the average person.
Recent case: Lynell Wingfield was a U.S. Air Force nurse who claims she injured herself during combat casualty training. At the time, she was diagnosed with shin splints and sent to bed for a while. She then walked with crutches and took over-the-counter painkillers.
Eventually, she left the Air Force with a 10% disability assessment. She then went to work as a nursing instructor for the University of South Florida. There, she occasionally showed up at work in a wheelchair due to leg pain and regularly saw a chiropractor.
When she was assigned an extra lab every two weeks with another instructor, she claimed she could not do the extra work. A series of medical leaves followed.
She then quit and sued, alleging disability discrimination.
The university argued that she wasn’t disabled. Wingfield couldn’t come up with a medical assessment that showed she was substantially impaired in walking based on shin splints. Her doctors said she could stand for several hours and she herself testified she could perform ordinary tasks despite leg pain. Plus, she took nothing but Tylenol for the pain. The court ruled against Wingfield. (Wingfield v. University of South Florida, No. 8:09-CV-01090, MD FL, 2010)