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Anxiety disorder a covered ADA disability

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Since the EEOC declared that “the ability to interact with others” is an essential life function, some employees and their attorneys have argued that a long list of psychiatric and psychological disorders are covered ADA disabilities.

If the diagnostic criteria for a condition includes difficulty getting along with others, then being diagnosed with the condition is proof enough of disability, goes the argument.

Now a federal appeals court has essentially agreed with that position, at least when it comes to one diagnosis: social anxiety disorder (SAD), a condition listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual—the diagnostic “Bible” for mental-health professionals.

SAD is a psychiatric condition that “interferes significantly with the person’s … functioning, or social activities or relationships.”

SAD employees may be entitled to accommodations that limit their interaction with other persons in the workplace.

Recent case: Christina was hired by the North Carolina state court system as an office assistant. Her job consisted largely of filing and microfilming documents. It was a job that kept her in a back room with minimal social interaction.

Then she was promoted to deputy clerk, where she worked with about 30 colleagues. Some deputy clerks had to work the front desk, providing direct customer service. Christina was assigned to that group.

Soon, she experienced panic attacks and anxiety.

She told her supervisors that she had SAD and requested an accommodation to a spot away from the front desk. Christina took leave while waiting for word on the accommodation.

Then Christina was fired because she “wasn’t getting it,” despite no previous complaints about her work.

She sued, alleging failure to accommodate. The trial court tossed out Christina’s case, ruling that SAD wasn’t a disability.

However, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. It said the court system should have considered possible accommodations. (Jacobs v. N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts, No. 13-2212, 4th Cir., 2015)

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