11th Amend. Gets in Way of Midwife’s COVID-related ADA Claims

Frank Ferreri

Houston, TX (WorkersCompensation.com) – For many employers during the pandemic, the option of working remotely has been a “reasonable accommodation” of sorts, regardless of whether employees have an ADA-covered disability.

Nonetheless, as was the case in Alaoui v. University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, No. H-21-2549 (S.D. Tex. 09/30/21), a denial of a disability-related request for working at home won’t lead to a lawsuit against a state entity due to constitutional provisions limiting who can be sued under the ADA.

COVID, Accommodation Request

A Certified Nurse Midwife for a health center had chronic inflammation of the ligaments of her spine, an autoimmune condition, and asthma. Because of her health conditions, the midwife sought to work from home and practice telemedicine due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After making this accommodation request, the midwife underwent surgery and then sought FMLA leave for her recovery. The next day, the center notified the midwife that it was eliminating her position.

The midwife sued the center, arguing that it violated the ADA by failing to reasonably accommodate her. The center countered that the midwife could not sue due to sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment.

The 11th Amendment bars suits in federal court against a state or one of its agencies – such as a state university’s medical center – regardless of the relief requested. However, in some areas of law, Congress has abrogated 11th Amendment immunity to allow lawsuits to go forward against a state entity.

ADA, Sovereign Immunity

Analyzing ADA Title I, which applies to employment, the court found that the disability rights law did not evidence Congress’ intent to abrogate sovereign immunity.

“Title I of the ADA does not validly abrogate the states’ sovereign immunity, meaning that Title I claims cannot be heard by the federal courts,” the court wrote. “The State of Texas has not waived its immunity from suit with respect to the ADA.”

As a result, the court dismissed the midwife’s ADA claims.

“Lacking a valid waiver, [the midwife’s] ADA claims against [the center] are barred by the 11th Amendment and must be dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction,” the court concluded.

For the same reasons, the court also dismissed the midwife’s FMLA claims.

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