Difficulty with the Boss is not a Disability

Sherrylen Weller sued her employer, Household Finance Corporation ("HFC"), under the American with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), alleging that she was disabled because job stress caused her to develop temporal mandibular joint disorder ("TMJ"). Weiler also claimed that her supervisor caused her anxiety and depression by yelling at her during a review of her job performance. Weiler alleged that HFC failed to reasonably accommodate her disability by refusing to place her with a different supervisor, as she requested. The Seventh Circuit (Chicago) saw things differently and dismissed Weiler's lawsuit. Weiler v. Household Finance Corp.

First, the court held that Weiler was not disabled. It noted that an individual is disabled within the meaning of the ADA where she suffers a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits a major life activity, such as working. However, according to the court, the inability to work for a particular supervisor because of an anxiety or stress disorder is not a substantial limitation on the ability to work.

Second, the court reasoned that even if Weiler's TMJ and anxiety disorder constituted a disability, the ADA requires that the disabled individual be qualified for the job. An individual is qualified only if she is able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation. The court found that Weiler could not perform the essential functions of her job because her psychotherapist had opined that her anxiety disorder precluded her from returning to work in any capacity.

Finally, the court found that under any circumstance, Weller's employer actually had reasonably accommodated her. Once Weiler notified HFC of her TMJ and anxiety disorder, HFC provided her with time off to attend therapy sessions, extended leave and short-term disability benefits for 26 weeks, and allowed her to apply for long-term disability benefits. HFC also searched for a similar position with a different supervisor, but none was available. HFC then offered Weiler one of five alternative vacant positions at the same salary level, which Weiler rejected. The court thus concluded that HFC had satisfied its obligation under the ADA, and was not required to provide Weiler with the supervisor of her choice.