Epileptic Worker Denied Nursing Home Job, Gets $80,000 And Apology

Pamila Bourasa has epilepsy but has not had a seizure since 1980, thanks to medicine she takes. So when the 57-year-old resident of Vale, Ore., was hired to be a cook at the Pioneer Place Assisted Living Facility, she didn't think much about letting her new employer know that she might get a positive result on the routine drug test required of new hires.

After all, Pioneer Place's website says the facility's mission is one of "compassionate and safe care." Bourasa had a start date of January 2010, but when the results of the drug test came back positive, she says that she was told she no longer had a job offer. Bourasa sued, alleging disability discrimination, and late last month, she settled with Pioneer Place for $80,000 and an apology. (Pioneer Place did not respond to requests from AOL Jobs for comment.)

"They were excited to have me," Bourasa says. "But they were scared of the unknown."

Adds Bourasa's attorney at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Teri Healy: "I wasn't surprised [the nursing home] settled early. Employers aren't allowed to make decisions based on stereotypes."

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, an employer can't fire a worker simply because of his or her disability unless the worker poses a danger to himself or others. That, however, doesn't stop employers from trying.

Among the most prominent rulings protecting epileptics was the 2009 case, Finan vs. Good Earth Tools Inc. Thomas Finan was a traveling salesman for Good Earth Tools, selling tungsten products used in manufacturing. After he began suffering from seizures in front of clients, he says that he was let go by Good Earth.

The case made it all the way to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the lower courts' ruling in Finan's favor. The courts found that Good Earth Tools had, crucially, not made reasonable accommodations for Finan so that he could continue his work as a salesman.

"It's not an onerous test," says Michael Baldonado, the director of the EEOC office in San Francisco, referring to the ADA mandate that employers try and find reasonable accommodations to allow disabled employees to continue working. "It's surprising how often employers don't even try. And all they need to do is try."

Bourasa's lawsuit was filed back in September 2011. Some 30 years earlier, Bourasa had been fired from another job, as a receptionist, after she had three seizures at work. There was no ADA back then. "It took two years of therapy to get out of that hole," she says.

She eventually learned that she was allergic to the medication that she was then prescribed, so she switched over to another and hasn't suffered a seizure since.

Bourasa says that she has moved on emotionally -- and literally. She's working at the library for the city of Vale.

"I am not a freak," she says. "I am healthy and able to work."

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