Request For EAP Did Not Put Employer On Notice Of Disability

Written on 02/03/2024

Christopher Chandler was a firefighter and paramedic in Walton County, Florida. He spent three months on leave after an injury to his hip and back. During this leave, Chandler had a conversation with his superiors about his mental health and indicated that he was experiencing depression and post-traumatic stress. Chandler did not indicate that he considered himself disabled as a result of these conditions, nor did he ask for a medical accommodation.

Chandler was assigned to a different fire station upon his return to work, which he considered to be a form of punishment. He requested a reassignment, and around the same time, requested access to the Employee Assistance Program for his depression. Later, he was demoted after being insubordinate to a supervisor and failing to show up for an overtime shift. Ultimately, he was terminated for refusing to return to work after his demotion.

Chandler sued the County on several claims, including a violation of the Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA) for discriminating against him on the basis of his disabling depression and PTSD by reassigning, demoting, and terminating him. The district court granted the County’s motion for summary judgment, and Chandler appealed.

The 11th Circuit affirmed, finding that Chandler failed to provide the County with notice of any disability. First, the Court noted that FCRA is interpreted in much the same way as the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the ADA, retaliation claims require proof that (1) the employee was disabled; (2) the employer was aware of the disability; and (3) the employer discriminated against the employee on the basis of the disability. The parties agreed that Chandler was disabled. However, it rejected Chandler’s argument that he provided proper notice to the County based on his pre-reassignment conversation with his superiors about his depression and PTSD, and his post-reassignment request for EAP access. The Court noted that “because Chandler did not claim a statutory disability in his conversation with his superiors, he did not trigger a duty to accommodate his disabilities through reassignment to a different station. Therefore, the district court properly determined that Chandler did not show that his supervisors were on notice as to his disabilities or discriminating against him on that account.”

Chandler v. Sheriff, Walton County, No. 22-13698, 2023 WL 7297918 (11th Cir. 2023).