When Congress amended the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2008, it was clear that the law would be broadly interpreted to cover a wide range of disabilities, specifically addressing mental illness, among other conditions. However, the Fifth Circuit Court recently affirmed a lower court's decision that depression does not qualify as a disability in a Texas man's employee discrimination case.
The man's case began after he was suspended and ultimately fired from his job at PSEG Texas, where he was a control room operator. He had been involved in an escalating series of verbal arguments and altercations with his supervisors that led to the disciplinary actions and termination.
At some point after his termination, he was seen by a doctor and diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder. Claiming they violated the Family Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, the man sued PSEG.
His claims against PSEG, including retaliation, employee discrimination and failure to make reasonable accommodations, went before a jury. Over the man's objections, the trial court gave the jury two predicate questions, asking whether the man was a "qualified individual with a disability." The jury said "no" to both, dismissing his claims, so the man appealed.
In his appeal, the man argued that the trial court was wrong to ask the jury whether he was a "qualified individual with a disability" violated the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his argument.
Workers who feel that they have been discriminated against for mental illness may have the option to file a case under the expanded ADA. An attorney experienced in employment law can review the circumstances and determine the strength of a potential claim.
Source: Setexasrecord.com, "Jury finds man with depression not disabled, Fifth Circuit affirms," David Yates, Nov. 11, 2013