Employee’s Anxiety Due To Inability to Work With Supervisor Is Not A Disability Under FEHA

  19 September 2014

The California Court of Appeal, Third District, has held in Higgins-Williams v.  Sutter Medical Foundation, that an employee’s inability to work under a particular supervisor because of anxiety and stress related to the supervisor’s standard oversight of job performance is not a disability pursuant to California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

The employee, Michaelin Higgins-Williams, worked for Sutter Medical Foundation as a clinical assistant. In June 2010, Ms. Higgins-Willimas reported to her treating physician, Alexander Chen, M.D., that she was stressed because of interactions at work with human resources and her manager. Dr. Chen diagnosed Ms. Higgins-Williams as having adjustment disorder with anxiety. Based on Dr. Chen‟s diagnosis, Sutter granted Higgins-Williams a stress-related (disability) leave of absence from work under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) from June 28, 2010, through August 2, 2010. Dr. Chen reported the employee’s disabling condition as “stress when dealing with her Human Resources and her manager.” 

 

She returned to work but her complaints continued and Sutter granted her another leave of absence through late December 2010. Higgins-Williams then advised she needed additional leave through March 2011, and that she could then return to work on light duty. Sutter terminated her employment on February 1, 2011, after advising that there was no information to support a conclusion that additional leave as an accommodation would effectuate Higgins-Williams return as a clinical assistant and that if she did not provide such information by January 31, 2011, her employment would be terminated. Following her termination, Higgins-Williams sued for disability discrimination pursuant to FEHA. Read more here.

 

 

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