By Lisa Burton of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP
Known for its creative and avant-garde employees, the
fashion industry is poised to be the first industry to address the ADA
Amendments1 and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
15, 2012, Ulrike Lindauer sued Chanel, Inc., claiming disability and
perceived disability under federal and state law, as well as violations of the
Family and Medical Leave Act. This former senior vice president of Fragrance
Marketing and Harvard MBA contends that her work environment caused her
physical and mental deterioration to the point of a nervous breakdown. Her weight dropped to only 97 pounds for a 5'10"
frame. Yet, despite her "severe anxiety,
extreme weight loss and depression," Lindauer's performance remained "excellent"
throughout her tenure, producing "great" results for Chanel
until her employment termination. While
we are limited to Lindauer's version of events until the matter progresses, the
case is nevertheless troubling for the fashion-forward as well as for employers
industry is fast-paced, ever-changing and high-stress. One would expect the
demands on a senior vice president making $270,000 per year to be even more
challenging and stressful in an environment where the symptoms of GAD appear
almost commonplace. Known for larger-than-life personalities and industry
icons, industry management already is aware that it should not to jump to
conclusions about an employee's mental health, physical appearance or
disabilities, but rather must keep open lines of communication and remain
attuned to potential requests for accommodation. Warned by their lawyers, management will make
sure not to create the potential for a claim of perceived disability discrimination
under the ADA
when an employee who is asked about his health or appearance claims nothing is
the matter or that he is just tired because he has had to work long hours to
meet a deadline. This stand-back and not
assume approach has been particularly true when an employee is meeting or exceeding
on how this case evolves, standard practice in creative industries may need to
be adjusted to assume more risk with regard to a perceived disability case,
rather than face a claim that the employer violated the ADA for failing to draw
a conclusion. Otherwise, employers may need to include, in the essential
requirements of the position: ability to work in a judgmental, highly
stressful, often unforgiving environment with complex and differing
1. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendments Act of 2008 was signed
into law September
25, 2008 and became effective January 1, 2009.
Copyright © 2012 by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. All Rights Reserved.