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Accommodation of a disability

An employer’s refusal to allow an employee to return to work following his mental health related leave can constitute illegal retaliation.

In a recently reported decision, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) found that an employer illegally retaliated against an employee, a chemistry professor, by refusing to allow him to smoothly rejoin his department following his mental health related medical leave.  Prior to going out on leave, the employee had sent several vitriolic emails about a job candidate and co-workers.  The MCAD agreed that the employee’s emails were grossly inappropriate but pointed to agreements the college made with the employee for his gradual reintegration following a one year leave of absence and successful treatment.

Despite the employee’s successful treatment of his disability with medication and therapy, he found himself ostracized upon his return.  He was banned from meetings.  The college moved him to a different location on campus.  The college argued several non-retaliatory reasons, including what it perceived as the professor’s breach of trust.  One thing that hurt the college’s defenses was the fact that the college ignored its own faculty grievance committee which sided with the employee.  This created the impression that the college was out to get rid of the employee.

While inappropriate activity or conduct due to a disability is not protected under discrimination law, the fact was that the college agreed to bring the professor back.  Once the college decided to rehabilitate the employee rather than punish him for the emails, they had a duty to follow the rehabilitation approach.  In the end, the employee lost his claim for unlawful discrimination but won on his claim for illegal retaliation.

The name of the case is Armstrong v. Boston College.

Pamela A. Smith
Law Office of Pamela A. Smith
233 Needham Street, Suite 540
Newton, MA 02464
617-969-2900

pam@pamsmithlaw.com

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