Best Ohio Discrimination Attorney Answer: Can I sue if my employer discriminates against me because of my social anxiety disorder? How does the law define a disability? Can my boss fire me because I have social anxiety disorder?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA“) makes it illegal for employers to harass or discriminate against an employee based on that employee’s disability or perceived disability. The ADA also requires employers to provide reasonable disability accommodations and prevents them from firing employees for asking for disability accommodations at work.
Often times, disability discrimination cases hinge on factors other than whether or not the employee is considered “disabled” under the law. Many cases involve employees who are treated differently on the basis of a physical disability that is easily noticeable and exploited by the employer. However, how does the law treat employees that are inflicted with serious disorders that are less obvious, but still impactful? Our employment discrimination attorneys have blogged before about this type of disability employment discrimination (See Top Disability Discrimination Lawyer Reply: Can I Be Fired For Having Depression Or Anxiety?; My Boss Is Harassing Me Because I’m Disabled. What Should I Do?; Can My Boss Terminate My Employment Because I Am Getting Fertility Treatments? Top Ohio Disability Discrimination Attorney Reply).
A recent disability discrimination case dealt with an employee who was discriminated against on the basis of her “social anxiety disorder.”
Christina Jacobs was hired as an office assistant with the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts. Jacobs job with the Office of the Courts generally consisted of microfilming and filing. However, soon after Jacobs began her position, she was promoted and became a deputy clerk. Jacobs new position involved much more contact with Office of the Courts customers as she was tasked with working the front desk. Importantly, not all deputy clerks were required to work at the front desk and have regular contact with customers.
Jacobs’ new position at the front desk caused immediate stress and panic attacks. It was at this time that Jacobs informed her employer that she previously had mental health issues and was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. Because of her social anxiety disorder, Jacobs asked for an accommodation to her employer that she be allowed to only work at the front desk one day a week. (See our employment law lawyers‘ blogs on accommodations, Can I Get A Disability Accommodation?, and Can I Get Work Help For My Disability?).
When Jacobs’ request for an accommodation for her disability was ignored, Jacobs asked to use some accrued leave due to the stress and anxiety she was facing as a result of her social anxiety disorder. After her request for leave was denied, Jacobs was summarily terminated and told that she was not “getting it.” Jacobs was further told that there were no positions available at the Office of the Courts where Jacobs could be placed that would meet her request for accommodation. This was despite the fact that many deputy clerks had little to no contact with customers.
Jacobs filed a disability and wrongful termination lawsuit against the Office of the Courts claiming that she was discriminated against on the basis of her disability. Surprisingly, the Office of the Courts argued that Jacobs should not be compensated as a result of her termination because her social anxiety disorder is not a disability. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit disagreed with the Office of the Courts and ruled that “interacting with others” is a major life activity, which means that a social anxiety disorder that interferes with the ability of someone to interact with others would be considered a disability.
Specifically, the Fourth District Court of Appeals held on this point:
The AOC argues that Jacobs did not have a disability as a matter of law. “Disability” is defined by the ADA as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(A). The ADA provides a nonexhaustive list of major life activities, including “speaking,” “concentrating,” “thinking,” “communicating,” and “working.” … The EEOC has also identified “interacting with others” as a major life activity. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(i)(1)(i).
“In September 2008, Congress broadened the definition of ‘disability’ by enacting the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. . . .” Summers v. Altarum Inst., Corp., 740 F.3d 325, 329 (4th Cir. 2014). The ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) was intended to make it “easier for people with disabilities to obtain protection under the ADA.” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.1(c)(4). The regulation clarifies that “[t]he primary object of attention in cases brought under the ADA should be whether covered entities have complied with their obligations and whether discrimination has occurred, not whether the individual meets the definition of disability.” Id. “[T]he question of whether an individual’s impairment is a disability under the ADA should not demand extensive analysis.” …
Jacobs alleges that her social anxiety disorder substantially limited her ability to interact with others and was therefore a disability. …
The AOC … argues that Jacobs’s social anxiety disorder did not substantially limit any major life activity because “interacting with others” is not a major life activity. This argument constitutes a challenge to the EEOC’s interpretation of the ADA. See 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(i)(1)(i) (identifying “interacting with others” as a major life activity). We therefore apply the familiar two-step Chevron analysis. See Jones v. Am. Postal Workers Union… we first ask whether Congress has “directly spoken” to the precise question of whether interacting with others is a major life activity. … By its express language, the statute’s list of major life activities is not exhaustive. … We therefore conclude that Congress has deliberately left a gap for the agency to fill, and proceed to Chevron’s second step–determining whether the EEOC’s regulation is reasonable. …
“The stated goal of the ADAAA is to expand the scope of protection available under the Act as broadly as the text permits.” Id. at 332. A major life activity is one that is “of central importance to daily life.” Toyota Motor Mfg., Ky. Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184, 197 (2002) (abrogated in part by the ADAAA). Few activities are more central to the human condition than interacting with others. If “bending” and “lifting” are major life activities … it is certainly … to conclude that interacting with others falls in the same category. Identifying “interacting with others” as a major life activity comparable to “caring for oneself,” “speaking,” “learning,” and “communicating” advances the broad remedial purpose of the ADA. We therefore defer to the EEOC’s determination and hold that interacting with others is a major life activity.
Simply because a disorder is not obvious to your employer does not mean that it is not considered a disability. The above case established that a disorder that interferes with your ability to interact with others is considered a disability. If you are having issues at work with a mental health disorder or a social anxiety order, you are entitled to certain rights. An employer cannot deny a reasonable accommodation request for a social anxiety disorder or discriminate against an employee because of a disorder that affects that employee’s ability to interact with others. If you suffering from a social anxiety disorder and are having issues at work, call an experienced employment attorney to make sure you know your rights.
Having to live with a disability is difficult enough without worrying about the effect it may have on your job. If you are disabled or your employer perceives you as being disabled; and you have been fired, wrongfully terminated, discriminated against, demoted, wrongfully disciplined, denied wages, or even think that you might need a disability discrimination lawyer, then call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. Call our Ohio employment law attorneys at 866-797-6040. The best option is not to wait. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting disabled employees’ rights under ADA and Ohio employment law.
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