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Curry v. Allan S. Goodman Part V – Do Employers Now Need to Accommodate Mental Disorders and Learning Disabilities?

Posted in CHRO & EEOC, Discrimination & Harassment, Litigation

Reading the Connecticut Supreme Court case of Curry v. Allan S. Goodman, Inc. decided last week,  I’m struck by how many questions the decision seems to raise — and how many are left unanswered. I’ve discussed the case and some questions it raises before, most recently hereCourtesy Morgue File - "Hide Face"

The case appears to stand for the proposition that an employer must engage in an interactive process with a disabled employee who requests some type of reasonable accommodation.  But another question that arises is: What types of "disabilities" are within the scope of this reasonable accommodation duty under state law? 

The Americans with Disabilities Act has a plain definition of "disability" that reviews the person’s condition in relation to a major life activity.  Connecticut’s anti-discrimination scheme, however, is different.

In many ways, Connecticut’s anti-discrimination provision of Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 46a-60(a)(1) is broader in scope because it includes "present or past history of mental disability, mental retardation, learning disability or physical disability, including, but not limited to, blindness." Broadening the scope even further are the definitions of these categories in Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 46a-51.

So what answer does the Supreme Court say about what types of "disabilities" are covered? It appears to say: All of the above (with emphasis noted below):

Because the text and legislative history illustrate that the intent of the legislature is to stamp out discrimination on the basis of physical disability and a wide range of other disabilities (mental disability, learning disability, and mental retardation), we must not interpret the statute in a way that would thwart this purpose. ….

Accordingly, we adopt the commission’s time-tested interpretation construing § 46a-60 (a) (1) to require employers to make a reasonable accommodation for an employee’s
disability.

This leads to more issues.  For example, the definition of a "mental disability" in Connecticut is essentially anything that is defined as a disorder within the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual IV, which includes diagnoses such as "Pathological Gambling" and "Exhibitionism". 

Some strange questions then arise.  Do employers now need to accommodate "Pathological Gambling" because it falls within the definition of a "mental disability" and perhaps provide an employee with a "break" to play online poker or take a visit to Foxwoods?   Or even more bizarre, does an employer need to provide a "reasonable accommodation" to someone who suffers from Exhibitionism and what would that entail?

As for providing reasonable accommodations to people with "learning disabilities", suppose an employee suffers from dyslexia.  Suppose that this employee is computer programmer, but can’t read all the instruction manuals. Must the employer provide an audio version of the same manuals as a "reasonable accommodation" or how about a person who must be available to read those manuals to them? How must an employer provide a reasonable accommodation for others who suffer from similar types of learning disabilities?

While the analysis of the Curry case thus far has noted that it now applies the reasonable accommodation provisions normally found in the ADA to small employers (who were not covered by the ADA),  there is a flip side too: Employers who were covered by the ADA, might need to contemplate reasonable accommodations to disabilities that are much broader than covered by the ADA. 

Is this settled? No.  And it may be that Superior Courts reviewing this case will take a narrow approach to the decision.

But after reading the Curry case over several times, I’m convinced that the importance of this case and its potential scope cannot be understated.   Absent some legislative intervention and oversight, this case has the potential to create lots of work for employment law attorneys in the years to come.

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