A Midwest power grid operator will need to pay $91,000 to settle a lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over a claim that it discriminated against an employee who suffered a disability.
Our Costa Mesa employment lawyers find this case interesting for a number of reasons, the first of which is that the disability was not one that might be readily known or acknowledged by some employers.
This is becoming increasingly relevant as our understanding of what constitutes as a disability expands, particularly to include ailments relating to mental and emotional health. In the past, our concept of disability was often limited to obvious physical conditions and ailments. However, just because one’s debilitating condition is not visibly apparent, does not make it any less legitimate or worthy of employer consideration and concessions under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as this case clearly illustrates.
Here’s what happened, according to the EEOC:
The employee in this case suffered from postpartum depression, a condition characterized by severe, long-lasting depression and sometimes psychosis that develops after childbirth. It’s not a character flaw or weakness. It’s a clinical mental health condition that can have awful consequences if left untreated. In addition to insomnia, intense anger and irritability, severe mood swings and overwhelming fatigue, some new mothers have reported experiencing thoughts of harming themselves or their babies.
It is treatable, but as this worker recognized, it wasn’t going to be possible while continuing to work full time during those treatments. At the same time, working while coping with this condition would have been next to impossible.
She made her condition known to her company and she placed a formal request for leave to allow her time to resolve the condition. The company’s policies allowed for leave under such conditions. However, the firm denied her request and then subsequently fired her for not showing up to work.
In response, the employee filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination.
The EEOC noted that while the company had attempted to argue that having someone in her position was absolutely critical to the company’s operations, administrators waited to fill the position until almost a month after the worker had initially said she could return. Additionally, the new employee was allowed to delay her start time by three more months.
The ADA holds employers responsible to provide “reasonable accommodation” for an employee’s disability, unless doing so would cause the firm to suffer some type of undue hardship. The EEOC noted that the duty to provide these accommodations is one that is ongoing. The fact that the company has previously provided accommodations (i.e, for maternity leave) does not then absolve the company from having to provide reasonable accommodations for a future request (i.e., for postpartum depression).
Even though postpartum depression is not a permanent condition, it met the ADA’s criteria for disability in that it substantially limited one or more of the worker’s major life activities for several months at the time the company fired her. The effects of an impairment expected to last fewer than six months can still be considered substantially limiting under ADA.
The EEOC said the settlement underscores the fact that postpartum depression is covered under ADA as a debilitating condition. This worker did the right thing by taking both her and her child’s health seriously. Her employer had a responsibility to allow her that opportunity.
Costa Mesa employment lawsuits can be filed with the help of the Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949.375.4734.
MISO to Pay $90,500 to Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Lawsuit, July 11, 2013, Press Release, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
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Race Discrimination Alleged by Workers Failing Criminal Background Checks, July 7, 2013, Costa Mesa Employment Lawyer Blog