A Six-Figure Civil Judgment and the Lessons That Can Be Leaned About Psychological Conditions and Disability Discrimination

Mental health conditions can be challenging things for those who have them. People may fail to understand your condition, may fail to appreciate the severity of the condition, or otherwise not treat the condition with the care necessary. When those failures have an impact on your job, they may represent disability discrimination in violation of the law. If you’ve endured such a scenario, an experienced Atlanta disability discrimination lawyer may be able to help.

Recently, news sources around the world reported on the case of a Kentucky man who recovered a six-figure civil judgment. Some headlines appeared to say that the man received a $450,000 payday because his employer threw him a birthday party he didn’t want.

The truth, as is often the case, was far more complex. The employee was a man who had an anxiety disorder that intermittently triggered panic attacks. One such trigger was being placed at the center of attention, such as celebrations of his birthday.

Ten months into his employment, and with his birthday approaching in five days, the man allegedly told his office manager about his disorder and requested no birthday party. Nevertheless, on the man’s birthday, he walked into the company lunchroom to discover a surprise birthday party. A panic attack ensued and he retreated to his car for the rest of his lunch period.

The next day, the employer held a meeting with the man. Rather than apologize, the employer allegedly “read him the riot act” and chastised him for “stealing [his] coworkers’ joy.” He had another panic attack at this meeting. The following Monday, the company fired the man.

The man sued for disability discrimination, the jury sided with him, and the jury returned a judgment of $150,000 for lost wages and $300,000 for mental anguish.

The Duty to Accommodate Exists for Both Physical and Mental Disabilities 

In law school, students learn about the “eggshell plaintiff.” The eggshell plaintiff is someone who was injured by the defendant but whose health makeup rendered them uniquely susceptible to a larger degree of harm than an average person. For example, a person with hemophilia who suffered numerous cuts in an auto accident might represent an eggshell plaintiff.

What does that have to do with discrimination law? As this Kentucky case helps demonstrate, more than you might have thought at first. While the Kentucky case was adjudicated based upon state law, Kentucky’s disability discrimination prohibitions mirror federal law under the Americans With Disabilities Act in many ways.

The ADA says that a recognized disability is a physical or mental condition that impacts one or more “major life activities.” According to the U.S. Labor Department, these activities “include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.”

The ADA also says that, if you have a recognized disability under the statute, then the law requires your employer to provide you with a reasonable accommodation for your disability (assuming the employer knew or should have known about the disability,) except in cases where that accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

An employer can request that the applicant or employee provide documentation of the disability, but an employer cannot just decide on their own that an employee who has requested an accommodation is exaggerating or that the stated disability is unserious. If you’re someone who has a disability that renders you particularly vulnerable in certain situations and your employer causes you extreme harm due to its failure to accommodate then, like the eggshell plaintiff in a personal injury case, you’re entitled to pursue all of the damages that your employer’s violation caused you, not the amount of harm that the average person would have suffered.

When the time comes to take that kind of case to court, look to the skilled Atlanta disability discrimination attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert. We understand that psychological disabilities are just as serious as physiological ones, and workers who suffer discrimination as a result of them are just as entitled to relief through legal action. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation.

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