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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i am glad she was compensated but she got more than i did after losing both legs to a drunk driver at teh young age of 23, i think people sue for waaaay too much and our government courts allow it. my money is long since gone, luckily my house is paid off but as i get older i need more help, soon i will be buying only the most necessary of groceries. during the holidays i apply for help; i get a basket for thanksgiving and christmas. i dont need , its the turkey i cant afford so i return the canned goods and anything else i dont need. so you were discriminated against!... i am every day of my life. i could use 80 thou. but i manage barely on my SSD. my son is ready to move out on his own he pays no rent now so i am hoping to rent out a room but t his always makes me uncomfortable but if it pays the bills and puts some food in the fridge I will do it. get her a damn new car!

June 08 2012 at 11:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

the reporter should look at the discrimination posed on diabetics. being diabetic you are automatically deemed uninsurable, unsafe, unknowledgeable, etc. now if you want to talk disability discrimination lets look there.

June 08 2012 at 10:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm not an "expert" on epilepsy by any means, but I'm curious as to what medication she could be taking that would cause a positive on a drug test...besides perhaps medicinal marijuana? The only drugs used for the treatment for seizure disorders that is sometimes tested for in drug test panels (that are completely legal w/ a prescription) are benzodiazipines, which shouldn't be a big deal. She was only denied the job AFTER her drug test which is what makes me think it could be marijuana.

Regardless, I think this is a shame. The way I read the article is the issue only came after the positive drug test, and if it was marijuana she tested positive for and she has a medicinal marijuana card, there shouldn't be an issue. I'm just speculating obviously but vagueness of what the medication was makes me curious.

June 08 2012 at 10:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Kristen's comment

I'm thinking it would have to be the benzos. There's nothing else that could cause a positive test result. (I'm not aware of marijuana being used to control seizures, but if medical marijuana is legal where she lives and she has a prescription for it, I suppose tht could be the problem as well.)

June 08 2012 at 11:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Welcome JP

I had a form of epilepsy when i was growing up called petit mal or grand mal. Taking meds till I was in my early 20's, taking EEG's which measure brain wave activities and believe me doing all of that made it no fun to have that diease. So it has been over 30 yrs since having it all went away made it a very nice change to my health at that time. It was like getting freed from jail and knowing that I was healthy and could enjoy life.

June 08 2012 at 4:25 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
You Lucky Guy!

Jon are you serious or choose to be an A-hole? I have had epilepsy for 25 years. Last seizure 12 years ago. Under control with meds. You do not choose to have epilepsy!

June 08 2012 at 4:16 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Jon, do you even have a working brain cell? People who have epilepsy/epileptic disorders are usually terrified of revealing to their prospective employers that they have epilepsy. I know because I've had an epileptic disorder for almost 30 years. I didn't "choose to have epilepsy". I had a TBI---traumatic brain injury. My medications make me hard to get along with because they have an effect on my behavior. I am "battery-operated"---I have a VNS (vagus nerve stimulator) to keep me from having seizures. I was one of the first 1,000 people in the world to get one.

Pamela, keep your spirits up and don't let anyone put you down. You should have gotten ten times more than what you did in that settlement with Pioneer Place. I spent five years trying to get a job in a home for the elderly but kept getting turned down----for the same reason. Good luck to you, Pamela.

June 08 2012 at 4:11 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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