Disabled employees are entitled to a workplace that’s free of hostility or harassment because of a disability. But that doesn’t mean that a few isolated comments are enough to create a hostile work environment.
Recent case: Hong had a history of depression, and began behavioral and pharmaceutical treatment at the age of 15. However, she did well academically and eventually graduated from medical school.
However, she began running into difficulties during her residency. After Hong admitted to a mentor that she was receiving psychiatric care, she claimed that he began to closely scrutinize her work. He also made comments she found offensive, including telling her that she was becoming known as “the resident who cries” and that she needed to control her feelings. He also said no one should expect “coddling” in the medical profession.
When Hong was asked if she was keeping appointments with her psychiatrist, she resorted to having progress reports sent to her mentor.
Hong sued, alleging that she had been subjected to a hostile environment because of her disability.
The court disagreed. The comments and concerns raised by her mentor were perhaps upsetting and annoying, but nothing was so severe that it would affect her job. The case was dismissed. (Yin v. North Shore Health System, No. 12-CV-1499, ED NY, 2014)
Final note: Courts expect employees to have thicker skin than Hong apparently had. A few off-hand comments aren’t enough to support a lawsuit.