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The Claustrophobic Cubicle

One of the latest ADAAA (Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act) cases filed involves the settlement of what’s being called the “cubicle case”. A former data technician at the University Medical Center in Nevada was terminated for not being able to perform her job. This case spells bad news for employers that have a culture of not respecting or violating the basic rights of their employees.

Jayne Feshold complained that working in a cubicle caused her to have severe anxiety resulting in claustrophobia.

The ADAAA covers claustrophobia as an anxiety disorder. Under the old ADA anxiety disorders were treated as temporary ailments. However, since the new changes to the ADA which became the ADAAA in 2008 went into effect the issue of “temporary” and “permanent” provides more employee protection. Ms. Feshold was employed for about eight years prior to working in a cubicle in 2007. This change caused the problem with claustrophobia.

There were two doctors supporting her claustrophobia. Nonetheless, her refused providing an accommodation for her. In 2008 she was moved to a security position resulted in her being further confined which ended in her being fired. The amount of ADA complaints dealing with anxiety disorders has grown significantly since the ADA became the ADAAA, according to the (EEOC) Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC is the federal agency that enforces the ADAAA. Employees are required to file a complaint with the EEOC prior to filing a lawsuit against the employer.

In a subsequent commission meeting, the county attorney Mary-Anne Miller recommended paying Ms. Feshold a $150,000 settlement. Ms. Feshold had documentation to support her complaint and show the employer refused to accommodate her impairment. The county attorney reasoned that settling now would cost less than going to trail. As a former county employee I find this case to be particularly significant given the arrogance of “sovereign immunity” which local governments typically hide their employment abuses.

According to the terms of the settlement neither Ms. Feshold or the county can discuss the specifics of the case. Legal professionals believe this settlement is opens the door for more similar cases favoring employees complaining of anxiety and depression disorders. Jeff Fontaine, executive director for the Nevada Association of Counties, said it wasn’t clear whether the case would set a precedent for government agencies getting flooded with anxiety-disorder lawsuits.

Personally, I applaud the outcome of this case. Why? Because prior to the 2008 ADA amendment the opponents of the ADA were being allowed to dismantle the it to the point of ineffectiveness. Even though the overwhelming majority of employees had “substantially limits one or more major life activities…” Hopefully cases such as this will force employers to respect the rights of employees under the ADAAA.


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