The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

HR and the Courts – May 2022

Each month, CUPA-HR General Counsel Ira Shepard provides an overview of several labor and employment law cases and regulatory actions with implications for the higher ed workplace. Here’s the latest from Ira.

Anxiety and PTSD Driving Increase in Both Accommodation Requests and Mental Health Discrimination Bias Claims Under the Americans With Disabilities Act

The EEOC recently reported a substantial increase in the number of mental health-related accusations of employer discrimination in the workplace filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Mental health-related discrimination claims in the past year accounted for 30 percent of all of the ADA claims filed. That is a 20 percent increase in mental health ADA claims filed over the past 10 years. The rise is partially attributable to the pandemic. Anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)-related claims appear to be driving the increase and account for nearly 60 percent of all mental health ADA claims filed in the past year. Anxiety and PTSD claims now amount to 17.6 percent of all ADA charges filed in fiscal year 2021 according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The EEOC will likely be ramping up its publicity efforts emphasizing employer obligations to enter into the interactive accommodation request process with regard to employee requests for accommodation for mental health ADA claims.

Maryland Legislature Overrides Governor’s Veto and Becomes Tenth State to Mandate Paid Family Leave Through a State Funded Program of Employer and Worker Payroll Taxes

Maryland, plus the District of Columbia, recently became the tenth state to mandate paid family leave among all private sector employees through a program funded by employer and worker payroll taxes. The program will guarantee all workers up to 12 weeks of paid leave benefits annually (up to a maximum of $1,000 per week) for care for the birth of a new child, their own medical issue, a family member’s serious illness or military deployment. The benefits will begin January 1, 2025. The payroll tax to fund the program is split between employers and workers and is scheduled to begin October 1, 2023. The tax rate will be determined through a Maryland Department of Labor study. The state of Delaware is also considering similar legislation.

Gay Married Couple Files Class Action Lawsuit Alleging Discrimination From Employer’s Denial of IVF Benefits

A former gay male employee of the City of New York has filed a class action lawsuit alleging that the City of New York illegally discriminated against gay male employees in its denial of in vitro fertilization (IVF) benefits available to other employees. The plaintiff, who was an assistant district attorney, and his husband, filed the charge with the EEOC alleging a Title IV violation as well as violations of applicable city and state civil rights laws. They allege that the city has unlawfully denied IVF benefits to 100s of gay males who work for the city and have been denied the insurance coverage for these benefits (Benefits Law 360 4/13/22).

California Legislature Considers Law to Protect Workers’ Off Hours Marijuana Use

The California Assembly will consider passing a law protecting employees’ off hours marijuana use from the workplace or applicant discrimination. California lawmakers may fill in the gap that exists in 37 states plus the District of Columbia that have legalized medical marijuana use, and 18 states plus the District of Columbia which have legalized recreational use of marijuana. California and other states have long legalized marijuana for medical and recreational use but have not added its legal use to a protected class under the applicable state employer non-discrimination statute. This could be the first state to do so and the beginning of a growing trend.

Second Opinion Not Enough to Discontinue Family and Medical Leave Act

Discontinuing Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) solely on the basis of a contrary second opinion rendered by a doctor chosen by the employer is not enough under the FMLA to terminate intermittent leave status. A federal judge in Pennsylvania denied summary judgment to Pennsylvania State University and held that the employee may present evidence at her upcoming FMLA interference trial that the university unlawfully subjected her to a second opinion rendered by a doctor of the university’s choosing. The court held in such circumstances where there is a difference of opinion between the claimant’s doctor and the doctor chosen to review the situation by the employer, a third doctor acceptable to both parties must review the situation (Wert v. Pa. State Univ. ( 2022 BL 132451 M.D. Pa. No. 4-19-cv-00155, 4/15/22).

The plaintiff had been on intermittent FMLA leave for about four months as her doctor certified she had been suffering from migraines and needed one day of leave per week. When her doctor upped her authorized medical leave to as many as four days a week the university consulted its own physician who disagreed with the employee’s doctor. The court held that in such situations the FMLA does not allow the employer to simply disregard the original doctor’s conclusions but requires the parties to agree on a third doctor to review the situation.