Not everyone who has a diagnosed psychiatric condition is disabled and entitled to protection under the ADA. Before you authorize reasonable accommodations or allow a psychiatric condition to become an excuse for
Today, medication and other remedial therapies can effectively control many psychiatric disorders. And the law states you don’t determine whether someone is disabled simply based on a diagnosis or the consequences of letting a condition go untreated. If medication allows someone to function normally—just as eyeglasses correct vision—then the condition isn’t a disability under the law. (Note, however, that adverse side effects can cause legitimate problems that might need to be considered.)
Bottom line: Consider each case individually. If you conclude, based on the evidence, that the individual can do just about everything any other person can do, you are usually safe in concluding that he or she—even with a serious psychiatric diagnosis—is not disabled.
Recent case: Monica Sarfaty was a regional manager for Mothers Work, a chain of maternity clothing stores. Sarfaty also suffered from bipolar disorder, a serious psychiatric illness. When she was fired, she went to the EEOC for help. The agency, which enforces the ADA, filed suit on Sarfaty’s behalf.
But during discovery, it became clear that Sarfaty’s illness didn’t substantially impair a major life function, partly because she was on medication that essentially controlled her mood swings to the point that she was able to live a normal life. Because she couldn’t prove she was unable to walk, talk, work or otherwise take proper care of herself, the court ruled she wasn’t disabled. It dismissed the case.
The EEOC appealed, but the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision. It, too, refused to see a well-controlled psychiatric condition as a disability worthy of legal protection. (EEOC v. Mothers Work, No. 06-51149, 5th Cir., 2007)
Final note: This was a major loss for the EEOC, which has long considered serious psychiatric disorders as covered disabilities.
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