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Disability discrimination: fibromyalgia

Indiana readers may have heard of the condition known as fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia affects the entire body and causes pain and tenderness in the muscles and joints. Secondary symptoms often include sleep disorders, anxiety and depression. Because the cause of fibromyalgia remains unknown, and because sufferers outwardly appear to be just fine, the profound impacts of the syndrome are frequently dismissed by employers.

A new disability discrimination lawsuit will test an employer's responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations for sufferers of fibromyalgia. An employee of Oklahoma State University claims that her supervisor ignored requests for disability accommodations and subjected her to harassment because of her disability. The employee says that her supervisor brushed aside her disabling condition as "not serious."

According to the employee, a combination of fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis severely limits her ability to move freely and perform repetitive tasks for long time periods. She requested a more flexible work schedule and the opportunity to telecommute, but her supervisor responded by writing her up for missed work time and moving her work space to an abandoned area unsuitable for accomplishing her job.

After the university commenced termination proceedings, the employee filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and followed that up with a civil lawsuit. The employee claims that her supervisor was not properly trained and supervised and acted with reckless disregard toward her disability rights.

The employee hopes to recover lost wages and seeks a civil penalty of punitive damages against the university.

The employee may have a strong case for disability discrimination based on harassment and a failure to provide reasonable accommodations. The largely misunderstood nature of her condition, however, may pose a challenge to her disability claims. The employee will need competent legal counsel to uphold her rights and obtain fair compensation.

Source: The Daily O'Collegian, "OSU named as defendant in employment discrimination lawsuit," Samantha Vincent, Aug. 21, 2012

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