Fieldnotes: Mammone vs. Harvard University

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The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court just issued a summary judgement against Michael Mammone in his disability lawsuit against Harvard University for terminating him after a bipolar manic episode. The Court found that during this psychotic episode Mammone engaged in egregious and inimical misconduct, which means that he was unable to perform the essential functions of his job. No attempt was made at reasonable accommodation and reading the majority opinion, it does not appear that this is necessary under the precedent set by Garrity v. United Airlines, Inc., 421 Mass. 55 (1995).

A "qualified handicapped person" is one "who is capable of performing the essential functions of a particular job, or who would be capable of performing the essential functions of a particular job with reasonable accommodation to his handicap."(3) G. L. c. 151B, § 1 (16). In granting summary judgment, the judge found that the workplace misconduct, which led to Mammone's termination, was egregious and sufficiently inimical to the interests of his employer that it would have resulted in the termination of a nonhandicapped employee. In these circumstances, the judge concluded, it would be impossible for Mammone to show that he was "capable of performing the essential functions" of his job. Mammone appealed, and we transferred the case to this court on our own motion. has the ruling online. Read through it, especially the dissenting opinion.

My own opinion is that it has always been extremely difficult for people with psychiatric disabilities to work in the United States and this judgement is just another nail in the coffin. As the dissenting opinion shows, Harvard could have engaged in various types of reasonable accommodation -- most notably, giving the plaintiff time off to seek treatment during a manic episode -- but chose not to. With this ruling (and with Garrity), people with psychiatric disabilities will have very little legal recourse against unjust workplace termination. Check this website which has links on issues surrounding forensic medicine and employment issues:

I'm afraid that if this is appealed to the federal Supreme Court, that the plaintiff will lose (given the SCOTUS track record on disability).

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This page contains a single entry by Karen Nakamura published on May 15, 2006 8:37 AM.

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