Pennsylvania: Comments Made About Employees’ Health Have Basis for Discrimination Claims


All Employers with 15+ Employees


June 21, 2022


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In Rice-Smith v. Misericordia Convalescent Home, a federal court in Pennsylvania stated that a nurse’s disability discrimination claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) could proceed in litigation even though the employer had no actual evidence of her alleged medical condition. Verbal notice from the employee was enough to be possibly regarded as having a disability, which is a protected status even if the individual does not in fact have a disability. 


In this case, an employee told her employer’s director of nursing during the interview process that she had multiple sclerosis and needed to use a cane while working. After her hire, the employee had a number of behavioral issues including using her phone while working, insubordination, and instigating confrontations. Ultimately, the employee was discharged for her ongoing disciplinary issues following a confrontation with a co-worker, which she blamed on medication she was taking for her multiple sclerosis. The employee also claimed the director of nursing made comments about her multiple sclerosis during the termination meeting, which he denied.  


The court stated that the ADA disability discrimination claim could proceed because simply disclosing her medical condition in her interview and requesting the use of a cane was enough information to establish that the employer may have regarded her as having a disability, despite the fact that the employee did not provide any evidence that she actually had multiple sclerosis. Also, the director of nursing’s text message coupled with his alleged statements at the termination meeting were enough to cast doubt that the disciplinary issues were the true reason for the discharge. This case should serve as a further warning that merely regarding someone as having a medical condition or disability is enough to advance claims of ADA discrimination.  


Action Items 

  1. Have appropriate personnel trained on managing discipline for employees in protected categories. 
  2. Consult with legal counsel before making adverse employment decisions against an employee who is perceived to be or regarded as having a disability or medical condition. 
  3. Subscribers can call our HR On-Call Hotline at (888) 378-2456 for further assistance. 

Disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance concerning employment-related issues. It is presented with the understanding that ManagEase is not engaged in rendering any legal opinions. If a legal opinion is needed, please contact the services of your own legal adviser. © 2022 ManagEase