As of 2020, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 53 million American adults — or 21% — had one or more forms of mental illness, which can cover a wide array of disorders from depression to anxiety to schizophrenia to addiction. Fortunately for those who experience mental illness to an extent that it impairs major life activities, the Americans With Disabilities Act offers substantial protection against employment discrimination. If you have a mental health disability and your employer failed to accommodate that disability, then they may have violated the ADA. You should contact a knowledgeable Atlanta disability discrimination lawyer to find out if an ADA violation has taken place and, if so, what your next steps should be.
That sort of failure to accommodate was exactly what allegedly happened to one employee of Atlanta’s largest public hospital, and it ended with the worker securing a payout via a settlement.
The worker, a certified medical assistant (CMA), began experiencing symptoms of depression in September 2019. The woman visited a doctor, who diagnosed her with severe depression. Based on that diagnosis, the employee asked for a little more than a month of leave.
The CMA gave her employer a doctor’s note listing her return-to-work date as Nov. 4, 2019. That Monday, she showed up ready to work, but the employer allegedly refused. According to the complaint, the hospital informed the CMA that she needed an additional note from her doctor. Because the doctor was out of the office for several days, the worker was delayed in obtaining that note. During that time, the hospital allegedly refused to allow the CMA to return to work.
According to the complaint, while the employee was still waiting on her doctor, the hospital fired her for “failure to return from leave.” This termination triggered the lawsuit and, ultimately, a settlement in which the employee received $55,000. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the hospital’s argument was that it had merely followed its own work rules when it fired the CMA.
What the hospital should have done, according to the EEOC, was to approach the CMA’s request for leave as an ADA accommodation. Had the employer provided the CMA with that accommodation, no firing would have occurred, according to the agency. The district director of the EEOC’s Atlanta office explained that, when “an employee needs leave related to a medical condition, it often implicates the ADA.” The director also pointed out that the hospital “was required to consider its obligations under the ADA when applying its work policies” but had failed to full this requirement.
When a Mental Health Condition Becomes a Disability Under the ADA
The successful outcome benefitting this worker highlights several key points. One is that a disability need not necessarily be physical. To trigger the ADA, a disability must “substantially limit” one or more “major life activities” and may be “physical or mental.”
Also, the crux of this matter was that the hospital did not reasonably accommodate the employee’s disability. Under the ADA, an employer can only decline to accommodate an employee’s qualifying disability if doing so would impose an “undue hardship” on the employer.
If you believe you were the target of disability discrimination at work, you need legal counsel who is highly skilled and knowledgeable in this area of the law. The experienced Atlanta disability discrimination attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert understand the intricate rules and requirements that apply to questions of disability discrimination. For the effective advocacy you need, contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation.