In Johnson v. L’Oreal USA, No. 21-2914-CV, 2023 WL 2637456 (2d Cir. Mar. 27, 2023),
Amanda Johnson was hired by L’Oréal as an assistant vice president in 2016. At first, Johnson was successful in her role at L’Oréal, and it is undisputed that her boss, the L’Oréal global brand president, initially supported her career. However, in late 2017, as Johnson, who suffers from depression and anxiety, started displaying a pattern of misconduct and being absent from work. The misconduct included:
- L’Oréal employees reported to Human Resources (HR) that Johnson had acted inappropriately in arguments with other L’Oréal executives.
- On April 2, 2018, one of Johnson’s direct reports reported complaints to HR about Johnson, including with her unannounced absences, performance, and antagonism, including a text messages in which Johnson wrote that she was “about to crawl so deep and so far into” another L’Oréal employee’s “a[**] that he will think I live in his f[***]ing small intestines” and that she would “f[***]ing destroy” him.
- During an investigation, every one of Johnson’s team members reported concerns with Johnson’s frequent absences, performance, and behavior.
- Johnson’s internal performance metrics score dropped from a 4.3 out of 5.0 in May 2017, to a 3.2 in April 2018, which was substantially below the 4.2 average score for managers in her division.
- Johnson was publicly insubordinate: “On May 26, 2018, Johnson arrived in Paris for an annual L’Oréal conference. That day, on her Twitter account, Johnson tweeted, ‘Me and 2 other coworkers just landed and arrived at hotel at 3:15p local time. My boss: let’s meet at 3:30! Me currently:’ followed by a picture of her hand holding a glass of wine. This was followed by other tweets stating, in part, ‘I’m not jumping head first into work right now. I just got off the f[***]ing plane…. Also I am a GLOBAL VP and my POS company insists on international economy….’” Id. at *2 (citations to the record omitted).
- Also, at the conference, Johnson got into an argument with a coworker while they were waiting to depart for a meeting.
- On June 13, 2018, a subordinate provided more offensive text messages to HR and lodged an ethics complaint against Johnson.
Throughout this time, Johnson attributed her bad conduct to her worsening depression and anxiety. It is important to keep in mind that during all of this, L’Oréal offered to meet and discuss potential accommodations with Johnson, including taking extended time off. Specifically, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit detailed: “Johnson texted Morales that she was ‘putting together an action plan with [her] doctor,’ which Johnson said she would share … ‘early next week.’ Morales [the HR representative] told Johnson, ‘I’m here when you are ready. I want you to feel better, that’s the most important thing.’ However, Johnson never shared a plan with Morales, nor did she ever respond to [the] offers of assistance or seek any accommodation.”
Based on the above, L’Oréal fired Johnson, who sued for disability discrimination and wrongful termination, among other claims.
Does the ADA protect employees with anxiety and depression from discrimination at work?
Yes, Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) protects employees with anxiety and depression from discrimination at work, as long as their condition meets the ADA’s definition of a disability. The ADA defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
There have been several cases where employees with anxiety and depression were found to be protected under the ADA. Here are a few examples:
- Colwell v. Rite Aid Corp., 602 F.3d 495 (3d Cir. 2010): In this case, an employee with anxiety and depression requested a transfer to a less stressful position as an accommodation under the ADA. The employer denied the request and eventually terminated the employee. The court found that the employee’s anxiety and depression were disabilities under the ADA and that the employer had failed to provide a reasonable accommodation. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit also found that the employee had been subjected to a hostile work environment based on her disability.
- Kroll v. White Lake Ambulance Authority, No. 17-2124, 2019 WL 3206122 (6th Cir. July 17, 2019): In this case, an employee with anxiety and depression requested a reduced work schedule as an accommodation under the ADA. The employer denied the request and eventually terminated the employee. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that the employee’s anxiety and depression were disabilities under the ADA and that the employer had failed to provide a reasonable accommodation.
- Parker v. Reema Consulting Services, Inc., 914 F.3d 730 (7th Cir. 2019): In this case, an employee with depression and anxiety was terminated after she took time off work to seek treatment for her condition. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found that the employee’s depression and anxiety were disabilities under the ADA and that the employer had violated the ADA by terminating her.
These cases demonstrate that employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees with anxiety and depression, and that employees with these conditions are protected under the ADA.
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Will diagnosed anxiety and depression protect employees under the ADA from their own workplace misconduct?
A diagnosis of anxiety and depression alone does not protect employees from their own workplace misconduct under the ADA. The ADA only requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for an employee’s disability and does not shield employees from disciplinary action for their own misconduct.
However, if the employee’s misconduct is related to their disability, the ADA may require the employer to make reasonable accommodations to prevent future misconduct. For example, an employee with anxiety and depression who has an outburst at work due to a triggering event related to their disability may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation, such as a modified work schedule or therapy sessions, to prevent future outbursts rather than just disciplinary action.
Thus, this is a case specific analysis that will depend on a lot of factors. To that end, you should always consult an employee’s rights attorney regarding your particular situation.
In Johnson, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held against Johnson and affirmed the dismissal of her claim:
Johnson argues that there is evidence of disability-based animus in the record but does so by pointing largely to complaints about her performance and frequent absences. “[U]nder the ADA,” however, “workplace misconduct”—a category which includes credible complaints about one’s work performance—”is a legitimate and nondiscriminatory reason for terminating employment, even when such misconduct is related to a disability.” McElwee v. County of Orange, 700 F.3d 635, 641 (2d Cir. 2012); see id. at n.4 (“The ADA does not excuse workplace misconduct because the misconduct is related to a disability.”); see also, e.g., Hazen v. Hill Betts & Nash, LLP, 936 N.Y.S.2d 164, 170 (App. Div. 1st Dep’t 2012) (“Well-established precedent demonstrates that the [NYSHRL] does not immunize disabled employees from discipline or discharge for incidents of misconduct in the workplace.”).
Id. at *5.
Do I have a disability discrimination case because I was fired today after told my manager that I have anxiety and depression?
You may have been wrongfully fired or terminated and have a case for disability discrimination, but the only way to find out for sure is to talk with an ADA lawyer directly. Thus, you should not wait to reach out and 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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