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How not to treat a learning-disabled employee

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Here’s a cautionary tale for super­­visors who have a learning-disabled subordinate. Do all you can to accommodate the employee and don’t let co-workers—or anyone in the workplace—make fun of disability traits.

Recent case: Kenneth, who characterizes himself as borderline mentally retarded, worked as a school district grounds and utility employee for a decade before being terminated after an on-the-job accident he had while driving a truck.

Kenneth sued under the ADA, alleging that he had been fired because he was disabled, had been denied reasonable accommodations and had been forced to endure harassment at work because of his disability.

The school district first argued that Kenneth wasn’t disabled at all. The court disagreed, based on his mother’s testimony that she had to help him with just about everything from getting groceries to handling money. She also explained that he had an IQ of 72. The court refused to conclude Kenneth was not disabled and said the question should go to a jury.

Next, the school district argued it actually had accommodated Kenneth. Again, the court disagreed. It noted testimony that Kenneth’s job de­­scription didn’t include driving at all—he could have been easily accommodated by simply excusing him from driving.

Finally, the school district argued that just because Kenneth was commonly referred to at work as “Forrest Gump” did not mean he was being harassed on account of his intellect. According to the district, the references were to the fictional Gump’s ping-pong prowess and cross-country running ability, not his learning disability.

The court didn’t buy it, and ruled in Kenneth’s favor. (Horne v. Dickinson Independent School District, No. G-11-63, SD TX, 2012)

Note: The school district—0 for 3 in this case—might recall what Forrest Gump’s mamma told him: Stupid is as stupid does.

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