New York City Lawsuit Alleges Discrimination Based on Mental Health Conditions

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., along with various state and city laws, protects employees with certain disabilities from discrimination and requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for qualifying employees who need them to perform the essential elements of their jobs. Conditions that can qualify for ADA protection range from short-term physical injuries to chronic conditions, including mental health conditions. A lawsuit recently filed in New York City alleges that the plaintiff’s employer fired her in violation of state and city anti-discrimination laws because she was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Thiery v. Slover, et al., No. 156310/2016, complaint (N.Y. Sup. Ct., N.Y. Co., Jul. 28, 2016).

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines ADHD as a mental health disorder “marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.” ADHD is commonly associated with children but is also present in adults. The three main features of ADHD, according to NIMH, are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. These traits are present to some extent in almost everyone, but in adults diagnosed with ADHD, they are present to such a degree that they can interfere with daily functioning.

A “disability” under the ADA includes a condition “that substantially limits one or more major life activities,” a “record” of this type of condition, and the perception of being impaired. 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1). Numerous courts have recognized that ADHD can constitute a “disability” within the meaning of the ADA, although the difficulty is in proving that the condition rises to that level of impairment. In one case, for example, a court found that the plaintiff had established a record “of a substantially limiting impairment,” but she had not adequately shown that her recent impairment was directly attributable to her ADHD diagnosis, nor that her employer “regarded her as having such an impairment.” Davidson v. Midelfort Clinic, Ltd., 133 F.3d 499, 502 (7th Cir. 1998).

The defendant in Thiery hired the plaintiff as an office manager around July 2015. The plaintiff alleges that she received a year-end bonus at the end of 2015 and a promotion and raise in May 2016, and that her supervisor and the owner “routinely praised” her. Thiery, complaint at 3. The plaintiff takes medication for ADHD and asserts that her condition has never interfered with her ability to perform her job duties. She states that she mentioned her diagnosis to a co-worker “in an informal conversation” in May 2016, id. at 4, and this information made its way to her supervisor.

In early June 2016, the supervisor and the owner exchanged emails in which they discussed possibly needing to fire the plaintiff because of her ADHD. The exchange allegedly included a statement from the supervisor that “THE CHICK IS HOPELESS!!!” [sic]. Id. They accidentally forwarded this exchange to the plaintiff and other employees.

The owner allegedly stated in an email to the plaintiff that she should have disclosed her diagnosis when she was hired, but the owner also allegedly stated that she would not have hired the plaintiff had she known. The supervisor allegedly stated in an email that the plaintiff “had to be terminated because her own discriminatory email made [the plaintiff’s] continued employment unworkable.” Id. at 5. The plaintiff claims that the owner and supervisor mentioned “performance problems” at this time, id., although they had never said anything to her before. They then fired her, she claims, because of her ADHD diagnosis.

If you need to speak with a disability discrimination lawyer in New Jersey or New York, contact the Resnick Law Group online, at 973-781-1204, or at (646) 867-7997 today to schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our team.

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