PHYSICIAN’S LACK OF CANDOR ABOUT DIABETIC CONDITION JUSTIFIES HIS DISCHARGE AND DEFEATS HIS CLAIM OF DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION

On August 3, 2019, a federal court in Colorado issued an opinion granting summary judgment to a physician’s employer after it fired him for a lack of forthrightness about his diabetic condition.  Wenrich v. Empowered Management Solutions LLC, et al., Civil Action No. 17-cv-00639 (D. Colo. 2019).  During the course of one month, the physician suffered two diabetes-related episodes.  First, he was found unconscious in the call room suffering from extremely low blood sugar.  About a month later, he exhibited an unresponsive mental state at work as a result of low blood sugar.  During both episodes, he was unable to attend to patients who needed care at the hospital where he worked.  He failed to promptly report the incidents to his supervisor.  

The physician’s employer terminated his position at the hospital, and he filed a claim for disability discrimination.  In order to prevail, the physician was required to prove that he was otherwise qualified to perform the job and that his termination was because of his diabetes.  Focusing on the second element, the court found that, because the physician had failed to disclose the incidents to his superiors, the hospital had justifiably lost confidence in its ability to rely on his future self-assessments.  The hospital had legitimate concerns for patient care, and the physician’s claim failed because he was unable to show that he was terminated on account of his disability.

The court held that a diabetic employee’s failure to control his diabetes-related condition is a separate reason for discharge, so that the discharge was not because of the diabetes.  When an employee’s disability impacts their work performance, it can be difficult for employers to understand what disability discrimination laws require of them. If you need some guidance on these and other important human resources considerations, we would be glad to help.

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