Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What a Dying Empire Looks Like: Anxiety Over Job Security is a Protected Disability Under ADA

This is from Walter Olson at CATO:

In 2008 Congress passed something called the ADA Amendments Act, which reversed various Supreme Court decisions and expanded other rules and definitions so as to enable many more persons to claim status as disabled for purposes of filing discrimination lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

I predicted the ADAAA would lead to bad consequences, but even I didn’t foresee what happened in this South Dakota federal case, as told by employment blogger Eric B. Meyer. The plaintiff is a teacher who had been given a poor evaluation and been put on a “performance improvement” plan.

It was right around this time that the teacher met with a physician’s assistant, who diagnosed the teacher with “anxiety and depression, likely stemming from her concerns about possibly getting fired.”

So, at the teacher’s request, the physician’s assistant wrote a letter to the school seeking a laundry list of accommodations, including:

  • restructuring her job to include only essential functions if stressful situations continue to negatively impact her 
  • encouraging her to walk away from stressful confrontations with supervisors; and 
  • providing coverage if she becomes overwhelmed with stress from the work environment and needs to leave.

The school responded to the full list of accommodation requests, agreeing to provide some, rejecting some, and requesting clarification as to others.

A month later, however, the school decided that her performance had not improved enough and decided to terminate her, after which she sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A federal court has now let her suit go forward, declaring that the teacher 

has come forth with sufficient facts to make a prima facie showing that her anxiety constitutes a disability under the ADA. This is especially the case when considering the relaxed standards imposed under the ADAAA for determining what constitutes a disability.

Thank you, U.S. Congress! At a time when the hiring prospects for new law school grads look grim, you’ve helped ensure that many, many lawyers will have gainful employment into the indefinite future.