Many workers suffering from sleep apnea, who were fired from their high-stakes occupations, are suing their companies claiming disability discrimination in New York City.

According to a report by New York Post, three workers — Helen Whitehurst, a Staten Island University Hospital dispatcher; Ronnie Allen, a Greyhound bus driver and Michael Dellegrazie, a would-be city garbage man — registered lawsuits in recent months as they lost their jobs due to the condition.

Whitehurst, who weighs 340 pounds, sued the hospital for $10 million after the company fired her for falling asleep during work.

Her lawyer, Bill Perniciaro, said, “Employers have to recognize that it’s not the person’s fault all the time, and that’s what happened with Helen. She nodded off a couple of times at work.”

Whitehurst’s lawsuit stated the reason for her falling asleep during work was sleep apnea. Perniciaro also added she wasn’t causing the hospital any problem even if she fell asleep at times.

The lawyer said, “Helen didn’t have a job where it was critical that she be awake 100 percent of the time.”

Karen Lee, a clinical assistant professor of Neurology at New York University Langone Medical Center said sleep apnea isn’t actually a “disability” and the ones who have the condition can still do their jobs if they go for proper treatment.

Lee said, “It’s just like, if you have poor vision, you wear glasses and you fix it. It’s a manageable disease like asthma, poor vision. It’s treatable.”

sleep Three workers who lost their jobs due sleep apnea filed lawsuits claiming disability discrimination in New York City, Feb. 9, 2018. Photo: Pixabay

Allen, a Harlem resident who started driving Greyhound buses in 2011, said he wore a mask and also lost weight after his company placed him on a leave of absence due to his condition, the report said.

According to Allen’s lawsuit, the bus company fired him in 2014. Greyhound stated it wouldn’t make a comment on an ongoing litigation and also stressed that all bus drivers affected by sleep apnea were tested yearly for treatment “compliance.”

Dellegrazie was rejected for a job that he wanted at the NYC Sanitation Department due to his condition and he filed a lawsuit so that he could take the job by force.

According to court papers, Dellegrazie claimed he had with him a clean bill of health which would allow him to drive a garbage truck. However, he failed to provide the needed medical documents which would prove the same.

These lawsuits came after two big train crashes connected to engineers suffering from sleep apnea. One of these accidents was the Hoboken collision in 2016 which resulted in one death and the other was the Long Island Rail Road incident which resulted in more than 100 injuries in 2017. 

Sleep apnea is a condition which occurs when the upper airway gets blocked repeatedly while one is sleeping, resulting in the reduction or stoppage of the airflow. This is known as obstructive sleep apnea. If the brain doesn’t send any breathing signals, the condition is known as central sleep apnea.