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Employee May Pursue ADA Claim Where Supervisor Accused of Triggering Suicide Attempt

Helen Jenkins worked for Common Place, Inc. from 1998 through 2016. Although diagnosed with depression in 1996, she worked diligently and was promoted regularly until 2016. In 2016, a new executive director was hired by the company. It is alleged that the new director, Pam Rumba, quickly criticized Ms. Jenkins and the other staff members. When Ms. Rumba created a position for a new assistant, with the vague description that the duties would be as she saw fit, she hired a non-disabled man. He was hired without the usual hiring process and Ms. Jenkin had been interested in the position. Ms. Rumba told the staff “I have tons of friends in the district who would come and take your jobs if I called.”
Ms. Jenkins’ conflicts with her supervisor escalated after that time, culminating in a dispute over Ms. Jenkin’s decision to seek a board member’s purchase approval. When Ms. Rumba found out, she said to Ms. Jenkins “Who do you think you are going to the board behind my back! If it’s a fight you want it’s a fight you’ll get! And I don’t lose!” Ms. Jenkins was very upset and was thereafter hospitalized for an attempted suicide. She had never been hospitalized previously in connection with her depression. When she attempted to return to work several weeks later, Ms. Rumba demanded that she release her medical records or be terminated. She refused and was fired.
Common Place sought to dismiss Ms. Jenkin’s claims for disability discrimination on a couple of grounds. First, the company claimed that Ms. Jenkins could not claim discrimination based on failure to promote because she could not identify the assistant position’s job duties. The federal district court rejected this claim because “[h]olding that plaintiff’s claims should be dismissed because her employer did not describe the position in detail would incentivize employers to provide only vague job descriptions in order to avoid discrimination lawsuits.”
With regard to whether she had a disability under the ADA, the court found that her allegations were sufficient to meet the standard. Although her depression prior to her hospitalization likely did not qualify as a disability, her current situation was sufficiently severe “to place her depression within the ambit of the ADA.” She was unable to work for several weeks and had to change treatment due to ongoing severity. Her case will proceed.