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Is Sleepwalking Covered under the ADA?

Aug 02, 2022

A female employee sleepwalks into a male employee’s hotel bed while both are on an out-of-town conference. Who did the company fire and why? 

Around midnight during an out-of-town sales conference, a male employee heard a knock on his hotel room door. A female coworkers was standing at the door in her robe, entered the hotel room, got into a made bed, pulled the covers up over her head and fell asleep. The male employee told her repeatedly she was in the wrong hotel room, but she did not move or wake up.

The male co-worker proceeded to call his supervisor, hotel security, and eventually the HR director, who was also attending the conference. When the female co-worker eventually woke up, she was embarrassed and disclosed she had a sleepwalking disorder. 

The following day, HR questioned all parties, put the female employee on paid leave, and  told her to go to the doctor.  The female employee was diagnosed with somnambulism (or sleep walking disorder) was fired one week later.  The female employee sued the company for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA prohibits an employer from discriminating against a qualified individual with a disability on the basis of that disability.  Here, the Court granted summary judgment for the company and held (1) the Plaintiff failed to prove she had a disability; and (2) failed to show she was terminated because of her sleepwalking.  While the Court does not address it, it is likely the Plaintiff failed to show her sleepwalking substantially affected a major life activity, as it had not happened since she was a child. 

Rather, the court found Plaintiff was terminated for her misconduct and needs to be held accountable for her own actions.

However, there is an argument to be made that the “misconduct” was involuntary, and caused as a result of the disability. The Court did not address this argument.

In its opinion, the court relied on two cases (1) where the employer was not liability for firing a man with PTSD who had angry and profane confrontation with her manager, even though the episode was caused by the condition; and (2) an employee with bipolar disorder verbally abused his supervisor for denying his vacation request. 

Employment lawyers and HR professionals- what do you think about the court’s decision? Should the employee have even been fired in the first place, or should they have given her a pass. She worked for the company for 10 years without incident.

Full Case Cite Here-


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. For informational purposes only. This information does not constitute an attorney client relationship and is not legal advise. Consult with an employment lawyer in your jurisdiction before making any important business decisions.

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