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Law: Does The ADA Protect Emotional Outbursts?

On Behalf of | Feb 18, 2020 | Disability Discrimination, Employment Discrimination |

Law: Does The ADA Protect Emotional Outbursts due to a disability?

Best Ohio Disability
Discrimination Attorney Answer
: Does my employer have to accommodate my emotional
outbursts if they are a symptom of my disability? How do I discuss reasonable
accommodations with my employer? What kind of accommodation can I get for my

Have you ever just
wanted to scream your heart out? Just take all that stress in your life and
release it into the universe in a primal yell? Take it from me it can be a very
therapeutic exercise. Before I went to law school and became an employment law lawyer, I
worked in the retail industry and, as anyone who has worked in retail can tell
you it can be a stressful job. You work long hours for too little pay and every
day you have to deal with a customer who is upset about something you have no
control over. It gets even worse around the holidays, and by the time Christmas
rolls around it can feel like you are one rude customer away from taking a trip
to the looney bin.

My fellow coworkers and
I developed a strategy for dealing with this stress, we created a scream zone.
It sounds like a joke, but we actually had a spot in the garden center’s
greenhouse where customers, and more importantly our boss, couldn’t hear us.
When things got rough we would quickly slip out there and scream, or cry as the
mood struck us. After about a minute of that, we would get back to work, a
little less stressed.

Thankfully, our
supervisors never caught us using the scream zone (although I think they
secretly had their own scream room). I can’t imagine what they would have said
if they had found one of us crying in the greenhouse. There is a good chance
they would have treated us much like New Balance treated Jessica Mullen when
she had an emotional outburst on the factory floor and terminated her. However,
in Mullen’s case
the United
States District Court of Maine
denied New Balances’
motion to have the case thrown out, and found that a jury could find that
Mullen’s emotional outburst was a symptom of her disability and that by
terminating her New Balance violated the Americans
with Disabilities Act

As our employment discrimination lawyers have blogged before, all
employees are protected by the ADA and Ohio’s R.C. §
being discriminated against by their employers on the basis of their actual or
perceived disability, including being fired, being paid less, being demoted,
being denied promotion, and being treated differently than any other similarly
situated non-disabled employee. (See My Job Is Discriminates Against Me Because I’m Disabled!; Top Disability Discrimination Lawyer: Is It Disability
Discrimination If My Job Will Not Accommodate My Anti-Social Disorder?
; and Is It Wrongful Termination To Fire Disabled Workers?). These laws also
prohibit employers from making pre-employment, disability-related inquiries of
job applicants. Additionally, the ADA requires employers to provide reasonable
accommodations to employees who, either with or without such accommodations,
are qualified to “perform the essential functions of the employment position.”
(See How Do I Get A Disability Accommodation For My Job?; Can A Service Dog Be A Disability Accommodation At My Job?; and Does My Job Have To Accommodate My Paralysis?). Lastly, your boss,
manager, or supervisor cannot retaliate against you for requesting reasonable
accommodations to help you perform the essential functions of your job.

In Mullen’s wrongful
case, she claimed that she
was terminated due to exhibiting symptoms of her disability and that New
Balance retaliated against her for requesting an accommodation for her
disability. In 2004, Mullen had a tubal ligation, a sterilization procedure
commonly referred to as “getting your tubes tied.” Unfortunately, Mullen
experienced complications from her surgery, including ovarian cysts. These
surgical complications caused Mullen a great deal of pain and discomfort. In
2015, in an attempt to cure her discomfort Mullen again went under the knife, this
time for a hysterectomy. Her doctor explained to
Mullen that the procedure would impact her endocrine system because ovaries are
responsible for generating estrogen and other hormones. The doctor also told
Mullen that after her hysterectomy she “will be in menopause” and would
experience symptoms including hot flashes and mood swings. Two months after her
surgery Mullen’s doctor said that she could return to work without any medical
restrictions. Following her medical release, Mullen applied for a stitcher
position at New Balance, and she was hired on May 18, 2015. After she was hired
Mullen told her supervising trainer, Julie Prentiss, that Mullen had recently
undergone a hysterectomy.

On the
morning of July 10, 2015, Mullen was having issues with a sewing machine that
she was having trouble getting the hang of. When Prentiss came by to see what
Mullen was having an issue with Mullen and Prentiss got into an exchange about
Mullen’s performance. As is the case in most workplace disputes each side had a
different story about how heated the exchange was, but one thing is undisputed,
during the exchange, Mullen became very upset and started to cry. Prentiss was
at a loss of what to do and sent Mullen to the break room for a “time-out.”

Law: Does The ADA Protect Emotional Outbursts due to a disability?

Now, as
an employment
discrimination attorney
, I submit that had this been all
that had occurred, sending an employee with a emotional disability to a safe
room, or “scream room” for that matter, would be a reasonable accommodation. If
the employer gives employees cigarette breaks or expecting mother’s breaks to
pump milk, then giving a disabled employee a similar break to cry for a few
minutes cannot be an undue hardship. Unfortunately, this is not where it ended.

After she
had sent Mullen to “time-out,” Prentiss contacted Frances Fisher and Rachel
Merry, two of New Balances human resources managers, and told them that Mullen
had experienced an “outburst.” Prentiss
told Fischer and Merry that Mullen had recently had a hysterectomy and that the
procedure had affected Mullen’s emotions. Fisher and Merry then went into the
break room to meet with Mullen.

The court
found that during Mullen’s meeting with Fisher and Merry the following occurred:
Mullen told Merry and Fisher that she had undergone a hysterectomy, that she
was having hot flashes, and that she was working with her doctor on medications
because her emotions were “all over the place.” Merry told Mullen that “maybe
this isn’t the right time for you at New Balance because what you explained
about the working environment and instructions from your trainer should not
have set you off as it did.” Mullen asked Merry: “What does this mean? Am I
being let go?” Merry responded that “that is a decision that I want us to reach
together.” She added that “seeing you sitting here in the condition you are in,
I still feel that this is not the right time for you here at New Balance.”
Mullen cried at times during the exchange. The conversation ended with Mullen
filling out and signing a resignation form. On the form, Mullen indicated that
the reason for her resignation was “emotional reasons.”

The court also heard
testimony from Mullen that New Balance denied, which included: Mullen told
Merry and Fisher that her doctor told her that her hysterectomy would cause her
to go into early menopause over the next years. After informing Merry and
Fisher about her hysterectomy and its impact on her mood, Mullen told Merry and
Fisher that all she had to do was “just wipe my face and go back to work.” Merry
asked Mullen whether she had started the job too soon after her hysterectomy.
When Mullen responded that she did not believe that was the case, Merry stated
that “we think it is too soon,” and “we don’t think this is a good fit for you.”
Merry then said, “I don’t think that we should have somebody working here that
gets that emotional.” Mullen responded that she did not want to quit or to be
fired and that all she wanted to do was go back to work. Merry repeatedly
insisted that Mullen needed to fill out the resignation form, and Mullen
demurred, saying that she needed the job and that she did not want to quit.
After multiple rounds of this exchange, Mullen completed the resignation form.

The court made the right
decision, and quickly ruled that a jury should decide the issue of whether New
Balance failed to reasonably accommodate the side effects of Mullen’s

“Plaintiff has testified
that she told Merry and Fisher that she had recently had a hysterectomy, that “what
comes with having a hysterectomy, is early menopause,” and that her doctor had
told her she would have hot flashes and become emotional for years after her
hysterectomy. The Plaintiff has further testified that she “kept telling the HR
managers that she just needed to be able to wash her face and go back to work,”
and that during her conversation with human resources, “I said, if somebody
would have just let me go to the bathroom and wipe my face, I would have been
fine.” A reasonable jury could conclude from this evidence that the Plaintiff
put the Defendant on notice that she had a disability which had caused her
emotional outburst, and that her statements about being allowed to “wash her
face and go back to work” were an effort to open a conversation into how to
accommodate that disability.”

Employers will often
attempt to characterize employee’s outbursts as insubordination, or otherwise
unprofessional or inappropriate conduct. However, when an employee’s “outbursts”
are tied to a disability, that the employer has knowledge of, punishing such
outbursts may be disability employment
. Merry
and Fisher should have worked with Mullen to find a reasonable accommodation
that would allow Mullen to return to work. Instead, New Balance made
stereotypical judgments regarding Mullen’s disability and forced her

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. The best
option is not to wait. Call our office at 866-797-6040. The Spitz Law
Firm, and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting disabled employees’ rights under ADA and Ohio employment law.

Law: Does The ADA Protect Emotional Outbursts due to a disability?


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