Case name: Harrison v. SUNY Downstate Medical Center, et al., No. 16‐CV‐1101 (E.D. N.Y. 09/25/17).Ruling: The U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York refused to dismiss a claim against SUNY.What it means: An educational institution can't inquire about the nature or severity of a disability unless the inquiry is consistent with business necessity.Summary: Giselle Harrison began working at the State University of New York in 2002.In December 2014, she told supervisor Anthony Parker that she wouldn't be able to work for a few days, and also provided him with a doctor's note indicating she wouldn't be able to return until Jan. 5, 2015. However, he told Harrison the doctor's note was insufficient because it didn't provide a reason why she would be absent.A few days later, Harrison provided a second doctor's note. Deciding it was also insufficient, Parker said she could submit any supplementary medical materials to SUNY's “Confidentiality Officer.” Instead, she supplied him with proof that the SUNY Student‐Employee Health Service had cleared her to return to work.Parker denied Harrison's sick leave request.Harrison allegedly complained to SUNY on multiple occasions regarding Parker's decision, stating that providing any additional information would violate her right to medical privacy. On Feb. 9, SUNY terminated Harrison, allegedly because her complaints were “causing problems.”Harrison filed a suit asserting a violation of the Rehabilitation Act.SUNY filed a motion to dismiss.The district judge said the Rehabilitation Act prohibited SUNY from making inquiries of an employee about a disability unless those inquiries were consistent with business necessity.Because Harrison had alleged that she had been cleared to return to work by both her doctor and SUNY's employee health unit, the judge decided she had adequately stated a claim.SUNY argued that Parker's inquiries were consistent with business necessity because they were meant to: (1) ensure that the workplace was safe and secure and (2) cut down on egregious absenteeism during the holiday season.But the judge said there was nothing to suggest Harrison had: (1) attendance issues, (2) previously abused her leave, or (3) been unable to perform her duties after being cleared to return to work by her doctor and the employee health unit. Although the judge dismissed other portions of the suit, she allowed the Rehabilitation Act claim to continue.
Campus Legal Advisor – Wiley
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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