A Thorny Situation…

This EEOC decision from its 1st quarter Digest of Equal Employment Opportunity Law provides an interesting example of religious discrimination and perceived mental disability overlapping to result in a finding of discrimination.

The Commission found that the Agency discriminated against Complainant based on her disability when it asked Complainant to remove a Crown of Thorns from her cubicle. The Agency did not dispute Complainant’s assertion that other employees were allowed to have religious symbols at their desks. While a supervisor stated that Complainant’s co-workers complained, the Agency did not present any statements from co-workers to corroborate this assertion. The Commission found that the Agency asked Complainant to remove the item because of the perception that Complainant was “unstable” and the Crown could be used as a weapon. Based upon the record, however, the supervisor had no more reason to believe that Complainant would become violent than any other employee. The Commission concluded that the supervisor’s decision appeared grounded in stereotypes about people with mental health conditions, and the Agency conceded that it directed Complainant to remove the Crown based upon the alleged perception by co-workers about Complainant’s condition. The Commission affirmed the Agency’s finding that it did not deny Complainant a reasonable accommodation, and found that Complainant failed to prove her claim of harassment. The Agency was ordered, among other things, to investigate Complainant’s claim for compensatory damages, take steps to ensure that all disability discrimination ceases and desists in the facility, permit Complainant to display the Crown of Thorns in her workspace, and provide training for management officials at the facility. Matilde M. v. Soc. Sec. Admin., EEOC Appeal No. 0120140147 (Jan. 17, 2017) .

 

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