Human Resources News & Insights

Staffer was afraid of rats, insects: Was it a disability?

This employee’s anxiety peaked when she was forced to work in a warehouse infested with rats and insects. Was she disabled – and should this firm have done more to help her?

Here are the details of the case:

Regina Murry worked for the General Services Administration (GSA) as a supply technician in the company’s warehouse. Murry suffers from agoraphobia, depression, anxiety, panic and post-traumatic stress disorders.

Those impairments came into play when the company’s warehouse, where Murry’s cubicle was located, became infested with insects and rodents.

Murry requested reassignment four times in four months, stating the “hostile and unhealthy working conditions” as the reason. She also was granted 31 days of of leave after her psychiatrist wrote a letter stating that repeated contact with the infested work environment had “incapacitated her.”

The company conducted a search for an open position for Murry, but was unable to find one. Murry filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), claiming the company denied her a reasonable accommodation of reassignment. An administrative law judge disagreed and and found that the company had put forth a “legitimate non-discriminatory reason for not reassigning Murry.”

GSA then presented a memo to Murry stating that there were no other positions available in the area that she could work at. It also denied a request from Murry to work at home, stating that two essential functions of her job — performing inventory checks of the warehouse and operating a computer system that wasn’t available remotely — couldn’t be done from home. GSA did allow Murry to have one hour of unpaid leave every morning to accommodate a new sleeping medication she was taking.

Soon after, the company promoted two people to HR assistant positions, and Murry filed a second suit, claiming she should have been assigned to one of the positions. An ALJ again found that no bias had been committed because Murry wasn’t qualified for an HR job.

Murry then filed another complaint, again claiming the company failed to accommodate her disability.

The court found that an anxiety disorder could qualify as a disability. But in the end, the court ruled in favor of GSA.

The reason: Murry sought reassignment to one of three positions, the court said: HR assistant, her own supply technician job working from home, or an alternative elsewhere in the Fort Worth area.

The court found GSA had done its due diligence in researching the possibilities of Murry taking any of these positions. She was unqualified for the HR position. She couldn’t perform the essential functions of her job from home. And there were no open positions for her elsewhere in the company.

Case closed.

The case is Murry v. General Services Administration.

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