Case Study 1: Disability Discrimination in Massachusetts Workplace

Employment lawyer Ben Steffans settles obesity disability discrimination case against Worcester business

The Americans with Disabilities Act and M.G.L. ch. 151B both prohibit harassment based upon an employee’s disability. In order to establish a disability harassment claim, an employee must demonstrate that she suffers from a disability, the harassment is unwelcome and related to her disability, the harassment is objectively and subjectively offensive, and the harassment was severe and pervasive.  

In 2015, Attorney Ben Steffans represented an individual from Worcester who was being harassed at work at her employer’s Danvers and Worcester locations. In this situation, the employee suffered from obesity, a condition that, in some states, is considered a disability that is protected by the ADA and chapter 151B. This employee suffered considerably at the hands of her co-workers, including putting applications to gyms on her chair, telling her she should eat salad for lunch more often, and sending her emails for diet pills. This workplace bullying created a hostile work environment for Attorney Steffans’s client, who couldn’t sleep.  She lost interest in socializing and personal relationships, and spiraled into depression.

This employee was in really bad shape when her lawsuit commenced. She was scared to take on her former employer and not confident that she could handle the stress of the litigation process. Her former employer recognized that initial sign of weakness, denied all of her accusations, and refused to settle the case.

At that point, the case proceeded to the discovery phase. During that time, Attorney Steffans took the deposition of the employer’s HR representative, the owner, and the office manager of the Worcester and Danvers locations where the conduct occurred.  Attorney Steffans also prepared his client for her deposition, which she handled with great success. At the end of those depositions, the employer changed its position on settlement and asked to mediate. The case eventually settled for a sizable sum that the employer demanded be kept confidential. The employee used that money to go back to school and kick start her career.

Do you live in North Adams, Worcester, Springfield, Lawrence, New Bedford, Fall River, or the Cape?  Are you being harassed due to a disability?  Or because of your age, race, gender, national origin, ethnicity, or religion? Contact Steffans Legal today for a free consultation.