CLIENT ALERT: Please read this special message.

Fired Worker Sues American for Denying ADHD Help

Ignities-Financial Times—Beagan Wilcox Volz

A former employee inAmerican Funds’ Indiana service center has sued the fund giant, her supervisor and five others for failing to provide “reasonable accommodations” for her mental disabilities, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, as required by the law.

The plaintiffclaims the Los Angeles–based firm retaliated against her for requesting the accommodations, created a hostile work environment and then fired her because of her disabilities.

Lisa Johnson, who began working at the firm’s Carmel, Ind., service center in 2002, claims that she was diagnosed in 2011 with ADHD, adjustment disorder, depression and anxiety. In 2012, she formally requested that American Funds make certain accommodations recommended by her doctor that would help her do the job.

Employers must reasonably accommodate an employee’s mental disability, unless doing so poses an “undue hardship” on the company’s operations, according to the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. A number of 2008 amendments to the law expanded its scope to apply specifically to mental, intellectual and emotional disabilities. Consequently the number of people protected increased.

Claims registered with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for disability-related discrimination reflect the change in the law. Such instances increased from about 19,500 cases, or 20.4% of bias claims in 2008, to about 25,300, or 28% of the 2014 total.

                                           *           *            *

About 4% of U.S. adults and 9% of 13- to 18-year-olds have ADHD, according to data cited by the National Institute of Mental Health.

The plaintiff in the recently filed suit against American Funds does not disclose the workplace accommodations she sought. Her attorney, Anthony Rufatto of Fishers, Ind., declined to provide that information to Ignites.

But in her lawsuit, Johnson claims that the firm violated the law by failing to work with her to evaluate potential accommodations after she requested them, also called the “interactive process.” The plaintiff also claims her request spurred retaliation — a below-average performance rating in 2012. She previously received satisfactory ratings or better and had been promoted to a manager position in 2008, according to the complaint.

Johnson took a short-term disability leave from August to October 2013, and was then fired in March 2014. American Funds stated that she was terminated after making a clerical error, but Johnson alleges that colleagues without disabilities had made the same error and kept their jobs.

She seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.

A spokeswoman for American Funds declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing the company’s policy against discussing ongoing litigation.  

                                         *           *            *

One frequently requested accommodation that has spawned lawsuits of late is so-called flextime, says Paul W. Mollica, [Of Counsel] at Outten & Golden who represents employees in employment disputes.

Some employers rigidly adhere to scheduling practices that could be reworked with minimal disruption to help a person with ADHD and anxiety perform productively, he says. “That’s an area where I think we’re going to see a good deal more attention.”