Migraine Headaches Are Not an ADA Disability, Says US Court



If you’re in the middle of filing for disability because of migraine headaches, you might want to take some notes: Recently, a US court rejected one migraine patient’s request to access her ADA rights after losing her job because of migraines.  Why was she rejected, and what could she have differently to sway the judge in her favor?  Here are some key points to consider before making your own appeal for disability from chronic migraine headaches.


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Since the 2008 amendments that were made to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the following three guidelines are used to determine who may file for disability:

  • 1) A person must suffer from a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,” the impairment being one that is recognized under ADA law.
  • 2) A person must be able to identify one or more appropriate “major life activities,” which may include the ability to work and/or care for oneself.
  • 3) A person must prove without doubt that the impairment substantially limits one or more of those activities.


Alethia Roselle Allen versus SouthCrest Hospital

Ms. Allen worked for several years as a medical assistant for SouthCrest hospital, performing tasks such as assisting doctors in medical procedures, calling in prescriptions, and discussing lab results with patients.  For the first few years, when she worked for Dr. Matthew Stevens, she was fine.

However, upon transferring to Dr. Adam Myers, Ms. Allen started to suffer severe migraine headaches.  While migraine headaches are not new to her- she used to get chronic migraines at the age of 18- this was her first time experiencing migraines since, while under employment for the SouthCrest hospital group.

During that year, Ms. Allen had to leave work because of migraines and chest pains, and she went straight to ER.  She resigned from her position at SouthCrest hospital, stating that migraine headaches and hypertension made it impossible for her to perform her job duties.


“…sometimes it was like I could get up and my head was still banging.  But I wasn’t dizzy or I wasn’t nauseated.  So I could keep moving.  Then other times, those are the times that I didn’t go to work.”

A few months after leaving her job, Ms. Allen stopped getting chronic migraines.  Nine months later, during the time of her deposition, Ms. Allen, still unemployed, had not suffered a migraine headache since her resignation.

Disability from migraines- denied

It seems obvious from looking at her history that migraines, which are an ADA-recognized disability, kept her from performing a “major life activity” (employment), and that her employer failed to accommodate to her needs.  Why then was she denied her ADA right for compensation?

Did migraines keep Ms. Allen from accomplishing major life activities like “working” and “caring for herself?”

According to Ms. Allen’s own words, she was able to complete her work duties during business hours while suffering from migraines, but would then “go home after work and crash and burn,” meaning that once she got home, she was unable to care for herself, nor do anything other than take migraine painkillers and go straight to bed.

“On the days I had headaches I would go home after work and “crash and burn.”  That is to say, I could not function or take care of any of the routine matters of caring for myself.  I could not do anything other than go home and  go straight to bed.”

According to the court, the fact that Ms. Allen had to retire to bed immediately upon coming home from work, though unusual, does not prove that she was any less able to care for herself than other people who choose to go to sleep early every evening.  In other words, her need to use sleep to escape her migraine symptoms don’t, according to ADA law, differentiate her from other people who forgo “caring for themselves,” i.e. eating and washing, in favor of going straight to bed.


Did migraines keep Ms. Allen from working under a broad range of jobs?

According to her own words, Ms. Allen was able to work in her previous station, in the office of Dr. Stevens, without suffering from migraines.  It was only after she moved to Dr. Myers’ office, a much more harried and stressful environment, that she started getting regular migraine attacks.

This probably hurt her case the most, as according to ADA law, “an employee must be significantly restricted in the ability to perform either a class of jobs or a broad range of jobs in various classes as compared to the average person having comparable training, skills, and abilities.”  Because she was able to work for one doctor and not the other, she failed to prove that her migraines prevented her from working in her basic professional field, or her “major life activity of work.”


What she failed to prove

Here are some points that could have significantly improved her case and proven that migraine headaches significantly interfered with her “major life activity of caring for herself:”

  • Because of migraines, Ms. Allen had to go to bed earlier than usual.
  • Ms. Allen’s migraine medications made her sleep longer than usual.
  • Because of her migraine medication, she woke up later in the morning than usual.
  • Because of having to go to sleep early to relieve her migraines, Ms. Allen was unable to care for herself, stating specific activities that she was unable to perform.
  • On evenings when she had migraines, her ability to care for herself was significantly compromised.

Please tell us…

  • Have you been successful in obtaining disability compensation due to suffering from chronic migraines?
  • Do you have any advice to offer migraine sufferers contemplating filing under their ADA right?
  • As always, we welcome your comments!

Spread the love…

Please share this article with your friends, family, or anybody you care about!

Read more about migraine law:

Migraines at Work- Can my Employers Fire me from my Job?

Social Security Disability for Migraine- 5 Tips for Filing

Cindy McCain Gives Voice to Migraine Syndrome

5 Free Ways to Support your fellow Migraine Headache Sufferer


Allen v. SouthCrest Hospital

Tenth Circuit Holds Employee’s Migraines Not a Disability Under ADA

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2 Responses to “Migraine Headaches Are Not an ADA Disability, Says US Court”

  1. Cindy says:

    The only reason I receive SSI disability for my migraines is because mine are hemiplegic (causing right sided paralysis). This paralysis used to be temporary but is now becoming permanent. I drag my right foot until the toe of my shoe is scuffed and there is permanent weakness in my right arm and in the right side of my face. This is very evident when I smile. I also have marked short term memory impairment, visual, speech and cognitive dysfunction, especially during attacks. My father had the same problems, only his paralysis was on his left side. His migraine disease led to disabling strokes and he was dead at 68. This is the future of many migraineurs, not only those with hemiplegic migraines. If people with Multiple Sclerosis deserve disability payments, so do people with chronic migraines. They are both disabling neurological diseases.

  2. Leah says:

    I agree, Cindy. As more people with migraines apply for benefits, perhaps it will become more mainstream and easier to pass.

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