Judging Seizure Disorder and Jobs not Always Clear

Connecticut Post - MariAn Gail Brown
June 16, 2009

Had Stratford Police Officer Justin LoSchiavo aspired to a career in the military, or as a trucker or commercial airline pilot instead of local law enforcement, he’d still be on the ground dreaming.

That’s because having epilepsy or a seizure disorder is a bar to employment when it comes to the military, the U.S. Department of Transportation or the Federal Aviation Administration because of potential safety threats. In Connecticut, however, epileptics are protected from job discrimination under state and federal law.

Being diagnosed with a seizure disorder is not a blanket prohibition on someone holding a ‘high-risk’ law enforcement position as long as he or she is qualified to perform the key functions associated with that work . . .

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Gary Phelan, an employment law attorney who specializes in Americans with Disabilities Act cases, says the Stratford department would have to have evidence that LoSchiavo’s recent patrol car accident was caused by a medical condition that impaired his ability to do his job before taking action.

LoSchiavo applied to become a Stratford cop, according to an internal Stratford police department document, in 2005 within five months of suffering a seizure. Retired Stratford detective Nelson Dinihanian, who advised his superiors not to hire him, says LoSchiavo suffered a seizure while driving. According to Stratford police documents, LoSchiavo’s own doctor, who had adjusted his medication in response to his seizures, advised a “medication increase” after his 2005 seizure.

In most settings, “blanket prohibitions” are found unlawful by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency that enforces federal employment discrimination laws. . .

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Epilepsy is a disorder marked by surges in the brain’s electrical signaling that can result in convulsions, muscle spasms and loss of consciousness. Epilepsy is diagnosed through a brain scan. Epilepsy and seizures affect more than 3 million people in the United States, with about 200,000 new cases being diagnosed each year.

Eighty percent of the time, epilepsy can be controlled through medication and surgery, according to the National Institutes of Health, yet some states refuse driver’s licenses to people with epilepsy unless they can show that they have been free from seizures, usually for six months.