If insomnia is a disability, what major life activity does it substantially limit? If it does not limit daytime activities, can it be a disability if it limits only the major life activity of sleep? Is this merely tautological? A new decision awaits our perusal.
A lawyer suffered flu-like symptoms, a severe earache and difficulty falling asleep. Her doctor told her that her lab tests were normal but that she was suffering from “fatigue” or “sleep deprivation.” He prescribed: “Return to full duty with hour restriction to 8 hours per day.” Another doctor ultimately diagnosed her with insomnia, “both difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep,” but placed no restrictions on her ability to work.
When she was medically cleared to return to work without restrictions, she requested as an accommodation five-hour work days in the office, but her supervisors denied this request, finding that the restriction would have the effect of preventing Anderson from performing the essential functions of her position.
She was fired because the company determined that she had a history of untrustworthy, insubordinate, and manipulative behavior, which had been long documented. She contended that the company failed to accommodate and fired her because of her disability.
The Appeals Court held that “the evidence simply does not support the conclusion that she was ‘substantially impaired’ at the time [the company] terminated her employment." The trial court had supported this conclusion when it stated that "[she] does not contend that her daytime functioning was significantly impaired by her sleep disorder; she argues only that her major life activity of sleep was impaired. … When viewed as a whole, the medical opinions provided by Anderson’s doctors and her own claims fail to establish that Anderson was substantially limited in any major life activity.”
So the conclusion was that she conceded that her insomnia did not significantly impair any daytime activities, and that the medical evidence indicated that "the major life activity of sleep" was not impaired. There may not be any significant precedent here, but the review of the law and the facts that the courts did is instructive.