B&B Partner David E. Belfort was called upon for comment and quoted in the April 29, 2020 issue of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly (“MLW”) in a front page article discussing the Massachusetts Appeals Court decision upholding the ruling in Trahan v. Wayfair, LLC (Trahan v. Wayfair Me., LLC, No. 19-1961 (1st Cir. Apr. 21, 2020). The Trahan appeal involved the lower court’s determination to dismiss at summary judgment the claims of disability discrimination brought by a psychologically disabled employee whom suffered from PTSD. The Court found that the fatal flaw in Trahan’s case was that she did not request an accommodation nor disclose her disabling condition until after the determination to fire her was reached.
The article entitled “Employee’s disability doesn’t shield her from termination” highlighted the fact that Ms. Trahan, the employee, violated the company’s code of conduct by calling her work colleague’s “bitches”. After discovering that discipline was imminent, the Plaintiff requested an accommodation due to her disability, which was acquired when assaulted while serving in the military. The District Court rejected Plaintiff’s disability claims and ruled in favor of Wayfair concluding that Mr. Trahan only disclosed her disability after engaging in “fireable misconduct”.
The timing of disclosure of a disabling condition and a request for accommodation matters. This case highlights the difficult balance employees’ suffering from mental health illness face. Disclose their private health information that might lead to bias at work or take the risk of waiting too long and losing protections under the law. In hindsight, Ms. Trahan waited too long but in reality the decision about whether to disclose a handicap and request workplace adjustments is complex.