Don’t be intimidated by sudden disability claim during discipline

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

Employees who face discipline and are worried about losing their jobs may believe that claiming they are disabled will stop or at least delay the inevitable. They think the ADA is a shield against punishment.

Don’t fall for that trick—especially if the discipline you are trying to impose has nothing to do with the claimed disability.

Recent case: Sue Ouellette-Koppen worked for more than a decade as the administrator of a dermatology clinic. Then the clinic performed an internal audit and concluded that Ouellette-Koppen was being paid more than she was entitled to. An accountant concluded she had taken home almost $16,000 in vacation pay she wasn’t eligible for.

The clinic’s managing partner met with Ouellette-Koppen and told her to be prepared to accept responsibility. Instead, she demanded a pay increase. She also informed the doctor that she had a disability that required surgery. She said her surgeon had explained she needed physical therapy, too. He didn’t, however, restrict her activities.

The clinic fired her over the pay disparity anyway. Ouellette-Koppen sued for disability discrimination, claiming she had been fired because she was disabled.

The court didn’t buy it. First, it said there was no evidence she was in fact disabled. Second, the court said her claimed disability had nothing to do with the pay dispute. It tossed out the case. (Ouellette-Koppen v. Advanced Skin Care Institute, No. 07-CV-2137, MD MN, 2008)

Final note: Nothing prevents you from firing an employee for poor performance just because she told you she is disabled or says she needs FMLA leave. You’re on solid ground as long as the underlying medical condition is unrelated to the performance problem.

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