California employers have been facing increasing incidents of so-called “boss-ectomy” claims, in which an employee claims to be disabled as a result of anxiety, depression, or other mental condition caused by the stress of working for a particular supervisor. As a result of her condition, the employee asserts a right to extended leave and a change of supervisor as an accommodation for her disability. Tuesday’s decision in Higgins-Williams v. Sutter Medical Foundation should put an end to that.
Applying the well-established standard for demonstrating a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, federal courts have universally concluded that an employee’s inability to work with a particular supervisor is not a “substantial limitation” on a major life activity and, therefore, is not a disability protected by the ADA. (See, e.g., Kennedy v. Dresser Rand Co. (2nd Cir. 1999) 193 F.3d 120; Gaul v. Lucent Technologies, Inc. (3rd Cir. 1998) 134 F.3d 576; Weiler v. Household Fin. Corp. (7th Cir. 1996) 101 F.3d 519.) California plaintiffs, however, have asserted that an employee’s inability to work with an assigned supervisor satisfies the lesser standard for demonstrating a disability under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, which recognizes conditions that merely limit—as opposed to substantially limit—a major life activity.