Registered Nurses With Disabilities: Legal Rights and Responsibilities
Leslie Neal-Boylan, PhD, APRN, CRRN, FAAN
& Michelle D. Miller, JD, MPH, RN
Purpose: The purpose of this legal case review and analysis was to determine what kinds of cases involving nurses with disabilities are typically brought to attorneys, which cases tend to be successful, and how and when a nurse with a disability should pursue legal action.
The review u sed the standard legal case analysis method to analyze legal cases that have been brought by registered nurses (RNs) with physical or sensory disabilities from 1995 to 2013. The cases span the period following the enactment of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 through the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008.
A nurse attorney reviewed the background material to find every case involving an RN with a disability, excluding those with mental health disabilities or substance abuse issues. Case analysis was conducted using standard legal case analysis procedures. Fifty-six cases were analyzed.
The cases were categorized into five types of legal claims: (a) disability discrimination (84%); (b) failure to accommodate (46%); (c) retaliation (12.5%); (d) association (3.6%); and (e) hostile work environment (7%). The cases were largely unsuccessful, particularly those brought under the ADA instead of the ADAAA.
The case analysis revealed that several cases brought by RNs with disabilities using the ADA might have been successful under the ADAAA. In addition, the case analysis has provided vital information for administrators, leaders, and clinical nurses regarding when a case is appropriate for legal action. These findings from this review will help nurses recognize when they are being treated in a discriminatory way in the workplace, what their legal rights and responsibilities are, and at what point they should pursue legal action.
This review has relevance to all RNs working in clinical and academic settings who may have a congenital or acquired physical or sensory disability.