California Appellate Court Holds Supervisor-Induced Stress Is Not a Disability

Employers in California with five or more employees must be concerned with both mental and physical disability discrimination allegations under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).  The definition of mental disability is expanding.  Offering some hope to employers, however, California’s Third District Court of Appeal in Higgins-Williams v. Sutter Medical Foundation, 2015 Cal. App. Lexis 455 (May 26, 2015) found no disability where the plaintiff was diagnosed by her treating physician as having an adjustment disorder with anxiety resulting from dealing with Human Resources and her manager.  Sutter granted Plaintiff Michaelin Higgins-Williams leave under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) based on this diagnosis, but she exhausted the maximum amount of leave she could take under these laws. Ms. Higgins-Williams then returned to work briefly.  She received a negative performance evaluation by her supervisor and alleged she was singled out and given an inappropriate amount of work.  Ms. Higgins-Williams claimed her manager grabbed her arm and yelled at her, after which she suffered a panic attack and left work, never to return. Sutter allowed Ms. Higgins-Williams five months leave of absence based on a variety of doctor’s notes and as an accommodation for her disability.  The doctor’s notes first stated that Ms. Higgins-Williams could come back to…