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Doubtful disability? Exercise patience anyway

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Occasionally, it may seem like an employee is exaggerating a disability and being difficult just for the sake of being difficult. That’s no reason to reject her claims outright.

Instead, focus on following your usual ADA accommodations process.

Your patience will be rewarded if it turns out the employee’s claimed disability is impossible to accommodate or that she can’t possibly perform the essential functions of her job no matter what you do.

Recent case: Elizabeth Hoppe was a tenured philosophy professor. Hoppe is white and wanted the ­university to hire a Hispanic philosophy professor in her department. How­­ever, the man rejected the university’s job offer and another white woman joined the faculty instead.

Hoppe complained loudly and often that she was being deprived of working with other professors from diverse backgrounds. Then she accused her supervisors of retaliating against her for complaining by not speaking with her.

This apparently caused great distress and anxiety, so much so that Hoppe said she was unable to check her email for a week and “had to have her friends, her therapist and her attorney read her email and summarize it for her.” She also went a month without checking voice mail or opening snail mail. Plus, she spent days in bed, un­­able to do anything.

She sued, alleging that the university should have accommodated this disability.

The university countered that there was no way Hoppe could teach a class if she couldn’t get out of bed, read her mail or respond to phone calls.

The court said Hoppe wasn’t able to perform essential functions of her job and therefore wasn’t covered by the ADA. Interacting with students and colleagues was an essential requirement for a college professor. It dismissed her suit. (Hoppe v. Lewis University, No. 09-C-03430, ND IL, 2011)

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Brian December 19, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Where in the case did it say that alleged discrimination against a Hispanic philosophy professor caused her such anxiety that she couldn’t check her mail for a week, went a month without checking voice mail, and spent days in bed unable to do anything? The case said that she had an anxiety disorder well before the situation with the Hispanic philosophy professor occurred. You seem to be making a correlation between her anxiety and the Hispanic professor not getting a position at the university that doesn’t exist.


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