Watson v. Hughston Sports Med. Hosp – Case Brief Summary (Federal Court)

In Watson v. Hughston Sports Med. Hosp., 231 F.Supp. 2d 1344, 1349 (M.D.Ga. 2002), the court focused upon the issue of substantial limitation when it considered whether an allergy satisfies the definition of a disability if the symptoms can be managed by changes in the individual's lifestyle.

In that case, a hospital refused to hire a nurse because the nurse was allergic to latex. Although the nurse claimed that the hospital had discriminated against her because of her disability -- i.e., her latex allergy -- the court concluded that her allergy did not substantially limit her in such major life activities as breathing and working.

The court granted summary judgment for the hospital. With respect to the nurse's claim that her allergy substantially limited her breathing, the court stated, id. at 1349-50:

Breathing is obviously a "major life activity" under anyone's definition. However, applying the above factors to determine whether Plaintiff's breathing has been "substantially limited" by her allergy, the Court must conclude that Watson has no such substantial limitations and is therefore not disabled for ADA purposes. First, the evidence reveals that, while the RAST blood test shows that Watson has a latex sensitivity of four on a scale of five, her reactions thus far have not been severe. Furthermore, the only restriction placed upon her as a result of the allergy is to avoid contact with latex at work and at home. Moreover, Plaintiff's allergy, while permanent, is dormant unless activated by exposure to latex. In other words, her "impairment" does not restrict her from engaging in the major life activity of breathing. It simply has the possibility of doing so if she exposes herself to latex. Just as people who are allergic to bees are not in danger of a reaction until they are stung, Watson does not suffer any adverse effects because of her allergy to latex unless and until she comes in contact with it. Similarly, the permanent or long term impact of Watson's allergy to latex appears minimal, as long as she avoids contact with the substance.

Perhaps the most persuasive evidence that Watson is not substantially limited in the life activity of breathing is the undisputed evidence that she currently works both full-time and part-time as a registered nurse, a job which not only requires "breathing" but requires one to engage in strenuous "major life activities." Watson described only a few occurrences where she has had trouble breathing because of her latex allergy as opposed to her pre-existing asthma. Based on the foregoing, the Court finds as a matter of law that Watson's latex allergy does not substantially limit her ability to breathe.