Short Term Depression is not a Disability

In a recent case out of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, Seibert v. Lutron Electronics, the court held that depression that was not permanent and caused by specific non-recurring events did not qualify as a disability under the ADA.  In Seibert, the plaintiff-employee suffered from depression that was caused by "her fiance's alcohol consumption, the stress of planning her wedding, financial problems, and her grandfather's illness."  This depression lead to the employee taking a leave of absence from April 2005 to October of 2005.  However, upon returning to work the employee continued to have attendance issues, which the court found were not attributable to depression, and the employer offered the employee the option to either resign her position or be terminated, with the employee choosing to resign.

The court explained that "[t]ransitory, temporary or impermanent impairments" do not meet the definition of an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity under the ADA.  In this case, accordingly, the court found that the depression was temporary.  The ADA itself defines transitory as lasting less than 6 months. 

The case is helpful for school districts in the ADA and Section 504 employment context in that it shows that short term depression caused by a specific event is not a disability.  Likewise, it is helpful under Section 504, which also applies to most school district, because Section 504 borrows the definition of disability from ADA.  Moreover, while perhaps a little less clear, this could also have implications for students in that students who claim to be disabled under Section 504 and/or IDEA due to depression might not so qualify if the depression is short term in nature and attributable to a specific event. 

Another ill-gotten mandate for Pennsylvania public schools

In Lower Merion School District v. Doe, 2007 WL 2792927 (Pa.), through some unfortunate legal reasoning, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has interpreted § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, to mean that a public school district must provide occupational services to a dual-enrolled private school student. In so doing, the court expands the dual enrollment and the Veschi decision mandates to provide public support for private schools. 

In this case, the district evaluated the student, found he was not eligible for special education and related services but was eligible as a protected handicapped student under § 504 and Chapter 15 of the Pennsylvania education regulations, 22 Pa. Code Chap. 15. The district therefore offered a program of appropriate supportive services in order for the student to access his public education. Parents rejected the offer, enrolled student in a private kindergarten, and dually enrolled student in the public school under § 502 of the Pennsylvania School Code, 24 P.S. § 5-502. 

The district argued that its § 504 requirement is limited to only providing equal access to its federally funded programs. Stated another way, one might say § 504 is not a mandate for a public school to intrude into a private school program and fix the private school’s “discrimination.” The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected the district’s argument based on some significant misunderstandings.

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