ADA Guidelines: Grave, but not necessarily disabling condition

by on December 15, 2008 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

$200K ADA Lawsuit payout for assuming stricken worker was disabled

Parkinson’s disease is scary. This neurological condition can affect muscular control, speech, vision and the ability to think. And the symptoms tend to get worse over time.
In other words, Parkinson’s presents a major challenge to employees who develop it – and also to their employers.

Although Parkinson’s may be disabling, not every employee who has it is in fact disabled. An employer, who makes the mistake of regarding such people as disabled, – when they’re not – risks ADA lawsuits.

Perceiving Disability isn’t ADA Compliant

That’s exactly what happened at a South Carolina company recently.

After a diagnosis of Parkinson’s, a veteran employee began suffering loss of motor control in one hand and anxiety so strong that he suffered a panic attack during a meeting at work. The company reacted by restricting the employee’s activity. He was barred from inputting data into a new computer system, for fear of errors, and from doing inventory tasks that were part of his job.
Also, managers who had previously socialized with the employee began to shun him.

Eventually, the employer fired him, claiming a need to reduce its workforce.

Disabilities and Mistaken Perceptions

When the employee sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act for disability discrimination, a federal court awarded him $200,000 in back pay and damages.

The court found the employer had wrongly regarded him as disabled by Parkinson’s. The facts were in stark contrast to the company’s fears: The employee’s neurologist opined that his symptoms – stiffness and tremors – were controlled with medication. He was still able to key data into his computer, although more slowly than before. And his handwriting, necessary for his job, was still legible.

ADA Guidelines for Managers
No matter how severe an employee’s symptoms may appear to a layperson, don’t assume a thing. Instead, get a reputable medical opinion and base your reaction – including any accommodation – on it.

Cite: Wilson v. Phoenix Specialty Mfg., No. 06-1836, 4th Cir., 1/23/08.

Issue 6.15 DOP 3-10-08

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