An Austin-based detective with narcolepsy who filed suit against the city and her employer, the Austin Police Department, was awarded $220,327 in back pay and $20,000 in pain and suffering, after years of litigation.
In March 2012, Amy Lynch filed a lawsuit against the city and Austin Police Department alleging that the department failed to accommodate her Americans with Disabilities Act request, discriminated against her because of her disability, and retaliated against her for several reasons including her complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2011. Lynch later filed another complaint in 2013 and the EEOC ruled in her favor for both complaints.
Colin Walsh, a trial attorney with law firm Rob Wiley P.C., who represented Lynch says Lynch initiated this suit “for all the right reasons” and wanted to not only assert her rights, but also “give hope and courage to others who are being discriminated against because of narcolepsy or other disabilities.”
“One of the biggest challenges in this case was overcoming the stereotypes, media portrayals, and public perception of individuals with narcolepsy,” says Walsh. “If the police department of a major US city is able to accommodate a police detective with narcolepsy, a private employer should be able to as well.”
Lynch had worked for the Austin Police Department for since 1997 and was even promoted to detective after a series of good performance reviews. After being diagnosed with narcolepsy in November 2009, Lynch’s professional life was significantly challenged despite her doctor’s certification that narcolepsy did not interfere with her ability to work as a detective.
A court document obtained by Sleep Review showed that Lynch’s supervisor denied her initial accommodation request of a start time of having a regular start time later than 8 am. Lynch then made use of the Family and Medical Leave Act and short-term disability leave from March 2011 to October 2011. When she attempted to return to work, she was ordered by Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo to undergo a fitness for duty exam. Acevedo appointed another doctor who also found that Lynch could perform all functions of her position.
In her formal request for accommodation in 2011, Lynch requested having a regular start time between 9 am and 10 am and stated that evening or night shifts were not desirable. But on February 1, 2012, Acevedo rejected her accommodation request.
According to Walsh, the police department mischaracterized her request and never asked her to clarify her accommodation request. This led to her dismissal in August 2012.
As reported by the Austin Chronicle, Lynch was reinstated to her detective position 17 months after being fired and has worked in the burglary unit in property crimes since.
“As the jury in Detective Lynch’s case found, it is against the law for an employer to fire an employee because he or she merely requests an accommodation for a disability,” says Walsh. “The employer must engage in a conversation with the employee to determine a reasonable accommodation.”
Walsh added that disability-based discrimination is one of the most common forms of employment disputes that he sees at his law firm.
If you suspect that your employment rights have been violated as a result of narcolepsy, Walsh offers some general advice: Don’t be afraid to voice your concerns in writing, ask for an accommodation from your employer, and consult with an employment attorney on how to assert your rights and protect your job, especially if you’re unsure.
“Individuals who have disabilities like narcolepsy that are widely misunderstood by the public and not physically apparent seem to bear a disproportionate share of that discrimination,” says Walsh. “Disability discrimination laws do not exempt narcolepsy or other sleep disorder [disabilities] from protection.”