Staffing Management

Legal Briefing: Bipolar Daughter, Unhappy Mother

By Staff Report

Apr. 24, 2015

Mary Lester was a senior services center manager for the city of Lafayette, Colorado. In July 2011, she was reprimanded after allegedly threatening to sue police officers who came to her home when she was having a property dispute with her daughter, and later threatened to sue after the officers didn’t close her gate and her dogs escaped.

City officials said Lester engaged in conduct unbecoming of a city employer. In December 2011, soon after her daughter began inpatient treatment for bipolar disorder, Lester was fired for violations related to the city’s bidding and purchasing policy. Lester brought an Amercians with Disabilities Act associated bias claim against the city, claiming that she was terminated because of her daughter’s bipolar disorder.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that Lester failed to show that her termination occurred under “circumstances raising a reasonable inference” that her daughter’s bipolar disorder was the “determining factor” in the city’s decision.

The court held that Lester failed to show that the city’s “embarrassment” over her daughter’s disability was sufficient to prove association bias and that she failed to offer any evidence that her daughter’s health care was “unusually or particularly expensive” or that the city was tracking those costs. Lester v. City of Lafayette, No. 13-01997, D. Colorado (Feb. 27, 2015).

IMPACT: To establish that an employee was discriminated against because of an association with a disabled person, the employee must show more than “embarrassment” by the employer.

Mark T. Kobata and Marty Denis are partners in the law firm Barlow, Kobata and Denis, which has offices in Beverly Hills, California, and Chicago. James E. Hall is a former partner at the firm.

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