In Jackson v. Humana Insurance Co., No. 22-2299, 2023 WL 2207632 (7th Cir. Feb. 24, 2023), the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit started its opinion by holding: “Humana Insurance Company fired LaTanya Jackson for failing to meet the essential requirement of her call-center job—answering customers’ calls.” That is not a good start for the employee.
Jackson worked as a call center employee but sought accommodations because being on the phone with customers triggered anxiety attacks. Over more than two years, the employer coached Jackson, provided her training, and gave her certain accommodations, including allowing her to fold some of her breaks into her lunch so that she could have longer break from the phones, time off from work, and temporarily assigning her tasks that were not on the phone. Still, Jackson declined calls, ended calls at the start or early in the call, and then took extra time to input the data from the calls. Jackson reported that her problems were due to her anxiety and inability to concentrate because of her anxiety.
Eventually, her manager put her on a performance improvement plan. When Jackson did not improve, the employer fired her, stating three reasons: (1) ending a call prematurely, requiring the customer to call back; (2) ending a call in the middle of greeting the customer; and (3) ending a call before even greeting the customer.
Jackson then sued for disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).
Is anxiety a disability under the ADA?
Yes, anxiety can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if it substantially limits one or more major life activities. The ADA defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment.
Major life activities can include a broad range of activities such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, sitting, reaching, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, interacting with others, and working.
If an individual’s anxiety substantially limits one or more of these major life activities, they may be protected under the ADA. It’s important to note that an individual must be qualified for the job and able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations, even with the disability.
Best Disability Discrimination Lawyer Blogs on Point:
- Can I Take Medical Leave From My Job Because Of My Anxiety?
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- What Are My Job Rights If I’m Suicidal?
How do you prove a claim of wrongful termination under the ADA?
To prove a claim of wrongful termination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employee must establish that:
- They have a disability as defined by the ADA: The employee must show that they have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, have a record of such an impairment, or be regarded as having such an impairment.
- They are qualified to perform the essential functions of the job: The employee must show that they are able to perform the essential functions of their job, with or without reasonable accommodations.
- They suffered an adverse employment action: The employee must show that they suffered an adverse employment action, such as termination, as a result of their disability.
- The employer knew or should have known about the disability: The employee must show that their employer knew or should have known about their disability.
- The termination was caused by the disability: The employee must show that the termination was caused by their disability, rather than for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason.
Best Wrongfully Fired Law Firm Blogs on Point:
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Can a disabled employee sue for disability discrimination under the ADA if the disability prevents the employee from performing the central function of the job?
Under the ADA, an employee can sue for disability discrimination if they can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations. If the disability prevents the employee from performing the central function of the job even with reasonable accommodations, then the employee will likely not be able to sue for disability discrimination under the ADA.
However, there is a limited possibility for the employee to still sue successfully. It is important to note that the ADA requires employers to engage in an interactive process with employees who have disabilities to determine whether reasonable accommodations can be made to enable them to perform the essential functions of the job. Employers must make reasonable accommodations unless doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer. So, even if an employee’s disability initially prevents him/her/they from performing the central function of the job, the employee may still have a claim under the ADA if the employer failed to engage in the interactive process.
Unfortunately for Jackson’s claims, Humana did engage in the interactive process and provided her with several accommodations and chances to prove she could do the central functions of the job. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held:
The judge correctly entered summary judgment for Humana on the ADA claim. Jackson supplied no evidence that could allow a reasonable jury to find that she was a qualified individual under the ADA, a requirement for relief. See Brooks v. Avancez, 39 F.4th 424, 433 (7th Cir. 2022). A qualified individual is one who can perform the essential functions of the job either with or without a reasonable accommodation. 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8). It is uncontested that an essential function of Jackson’s job was to handle customers’ calls. Although her twice weekly anxiety attacks necessitated breaks of up to 45 minutes, Humana modified Jackson’s schedule to give her such breaks daily. Yet even with this accommodation (and others, such as job coaching, a new supervisor, and intermittent medical leave), Jackson admittedly remained unable to concentrate and handle the calls. She also does not contest that, by ending three calls improperly while under a performance improvement plan, she violated its terms. Thus, even with a reasonable accommodation, she could not perform the essential function of her call-center job of reliably handling phone calls.
Best Wrongful Termination Attorney Blogs on Point:
- Can I Sue For Wrongful Termination If My Doctor Says I Can No Longer Work?
- ADA: Don’t Fire Disabled Employees Who Already Do The Job
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- What Should Employees Know About Reasonable Accommodations?
Do I have a claim for disability discrimination after I was fired today?
Best Employment Lawyer Answer: Disability discrimination claims are complex. There is not a stock answer regarding whether a particular disability or set of circumstances gives rises to a viable claim for wrongful termination, employment discrimination, harassment, or failure to accommodate. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm is one of the largest employee’s rights dedicated law firm in the country. To get information specifically related to your set of circumstances, your best option would be best to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. (Read: What is the Spitz No Fee Guarantee?; Why Having Skilled Employment Attorneys Is Critical; Employment Law: Avoid Hiring The Wrong Attorney). Call our lawyers in Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, and Kentucky to get help now. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm and its experienced attorneys are dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.
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