A federal judge in Seattle has ruled that excluding prescription contraceptives from employee health plans is a violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and is de facto discrimination against women. This ruling reinforces last December's decision by the EEOC that employers who offer insurance coverage for preventative health care of other types must also cover prescription contraceptives.
Source: The New York Times, June 13, 2001.
Belligerence as a Disability
Can someone be considered disabled if s/he does not get along well with others? The answer is maybe, according to a recent federal court ruling.
In Bennett v. Unisys Corp, U.S. District Judge Franklin Van Antwerpen found that belligerence as a manifestation of major depression is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and must be reasonably accommodated in the workplace.
Tina Bennett was fired from the Unisys Corporation in 1998 after an 18 year career with the company and its predecessor. Although promoted to a management position during her career, she also had a history of performance evaluations that detailed her problems with interpersonal skills. Ms. Bennett's peers felt they could not approach her about the problems directly or have a meaningful conversation with her because she had difficulty controlling her emotions and was highly sensitive to criticism. Ms. Bennett was diagnosed with major depression in 1997. The decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that Ms. Bennett's behavior could be directly linked to her mental disability, and that she should have been offered reasonable accommodation in the workplace. In fact, Unisys did consider putting Ms. Bennett on a "corrective action plan" in 1998, but decided to fire her instead. Ms. Bennett's lawyers argued that she could have continued to function in her job if she'd had more regular communications with her supervisors, had not been overburdened by work, and had received face-to-face feedback about her performance.
Although this case applies only to the 3rd Circuit of the federal court system, the implications are clear. Depression and other mental impairments are covered under the ADA, and employers will have to be aware of them, and be prepared to accommodate them.
But how do you know if someone is behaving badly because s/he is a jerk, or because s/he has a legitimate mental problem? The average fire department supervisor has very limited clinical knowledge of diagnosable mental illness, after all. Can't you just deal with the behavior, regardless of the cause?
This recent decision indicates that the short answer to that question is no. To avoid this type of ADA claim, employers will have to be more aware of their employees' behavior patterns, and also be prepared to offer remedies for problems. This will mean training first line supervisors to do meaningful performance evaluations. It will also mean using the EAP and other outside resources when there are problems. Most of all, it will mean taking a proactive view of interpersonal problems on the job, and not allowing avoidance to be an option when there are obvious issues.
The ADA is the most recent, and the most contested, addition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The coming years will further clarify what is and is not covered in its provisions. The recent decision by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has expanded the scope of the ADA in the workplace in a way that has a potential impact on every employer.
Source: The Legal Intelligencer, December 13, 2000.