CLEVELAND—One inopportune slip of the tongue about an employee's medical condition (or perceived medical condition) could convert a defensible disability discrimination claim into a knock-down, drag-out fight culminating in a risky jury trial. “Regarded as” disability discrimination claims are supposed to be blind to whether an employee actually suffers from a physical or mental impairment that limits a major life activity. These claims protect individuals who are able to meet a job's requirements from an employer's perception of an inability to perform the job's functions because of a medical condition. What happens, however, when an employer makes a personnel decision with no knowledge that the employee suffers from some medical condition? Can the employee still claim that the employer “regarded” him or her as disabled? According to one recent decision from an Ohio court of appeals, the answer is no. In Field vs. Medlab Ohio, the employee alleged that her employer transferred to her a less favorable sales territory and ultimately terminated her because it perceived her as suffering from alcoholism (a protected disability). The court disagreed, because Medlab had no knowledge of the woman's condition at the time it made its decisions regarding her employment. While an inopportune slip of the tongue about an employee's existing—or perceived—medical condition can be all it takes, this case illustrates good outcomes do result from employment decisions made without reference to impairments, regardless of an employee's underlying medical issues. Jon Hyman is a partner in the Labor & Employment group of Cleveland-based Kohrman Jackson & Krantz. He can be reached at 216-736-7226 or [email protected]
Dealing with employee med issues...shhhh
Do you have an opinion about this story? Do you have some thoughts you'd like to share with our readers? Tire Business would love to hear from you. Email your letter to Editor Don Detore at [email protected].