Thursday, September 23, 2010

Obsession with Nurse and EAP Recommendation not "Regarded As" Disability - COTW #8

Is obsession with a co-worker a disability? When an employer refers an employee to an assistance program, does that establish that the employer regards the employee as having a disability? The case of the week is Hobson v. St. Luke's Hospital, 2010 WL 3220365 (E.D. Pa., Aug. 12, 2010). It's an employment discrimination case with several claims, but I'm going to focus solely on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claim.

The Plaintiff had a rather odd relationship with a co-worker, a nurse at St. Luke's. He left her flowers, gave her a note complimenting her on how she was dressed, and eventually left a note with a blank check for the nurse to give to a charity. It's tough to tell from the opinion what was really going on here, but the nurse didn't like it and called the police. The Plaintiff was then terminated for allegations of sexual harassment.

How does the ADA factor into all of this? Under the ADA, you can bring a discrimination claim if you are "regarded as" having a disability. An administrator told the Plaintiff that "he had an obsession problem which was a serious mental illness and he should seek help." The Court declined to recognize this as a "regarded as" disability.

In addition to the comments about his obsession, the administrator also advised the Plaintiff to seek counseling through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and gave him a brochure and documents related to the problem. The Court again held that this did not demonstrate that the employer regarded him as disabled.

I'm going to guess that employers don't lose a lot of sleep over whether one employee's obsession with a co-worker constitutes a disability (although, similar mental health issues could lead to this result). The more important point here is that EAP programs, which are common, will not necessarily establish that the employer regards the employee as disabled. This should help ensure that employers continue to provide resources to help employees in need.

Posted by Philip Miles, an employment lawyer with McQuaide Blasko in State College, Pennsylvania.

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