Employers Feeling Effects of The ADAAA: Fired Employee with PTSD Awarded $1.1 Million

The 2008 Amendments to the Americans with Disability Act (“ADAAA”) became effective on March 15, 2011.  Employers are starting to feel the effects of these Amendments.  An Iowa federal jury recently awarded a former university employee $1.1 Million after finding the university discriminated against her because of her disabilities which included Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”), depression, and anxiety.

Lawsuits by employees with PTSD will likely be on the rise since the EEOC recently finalized regulations which expanded the definition of disability to more consistently include PTSD under episodic or in remission impairments. Furthermore, according to the EEOC, the focus will no longer be on whether an employee has a disability, but whether the Employer complied with the ADA.  The ADAAA set out to relax standards and expand definitions to protect more persons with disabilities.

Lynne Seabrooke alleged that Upper Iowa University (“University”) terminated her on the basis of her disabilities.  Specifically, Seabrooke was diagnosed with PTSD, depression, and anxiety.  Seabrooke claimed that she could perform the essential functions of her job with reasonable accommodations.  Seabrooke claimed that she requested a reasonable accommodation which the University refused.  Seabrooke also claimed that the University subjected her to a “significantly higher workload” which caused her more physical and mental health problems.  The University claimed that Seabrooke was discharged due to “reoccurring instances of verbal and written abuse toward her coworkers.” 

The jury awarded her $750,000 in punitive damages, $250,000 in emotional damages, plus another roughly $120,000 in lost wages, lost benefits, and medical bills.  Additionally, Seabrooke could be awarded more compensation based on anticipated future earnings.  This shows why PTSD claims are appealing.  Employees who can establish their PTSD can use their trauma to establish damages.  Employers need to be aware of the recent significant changes resulting from the ADAAA and the consequences resulting from non-compliance.  Employers should further ensure that they are up to date on recent employment law changes.

For more information, please contact Patrick Peters at ppeters@beneschlaw.com or (216) 363-4434.

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