The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that a plaintiff may assert a hostile work environment claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act, in addition to the more typical claims of discrimination and failure to accommodate.
In Ford v. Marion County Sheriff’s Office, a deputy was injured on the job and, after a year of light duty, was required to transfer to another job. She sued under the ADA, asserting, among other things, that she had been harassed by her co-workers because of her disability. The Seventh Circuit held that hostile work environment claims are cognizable under the ADA, joining the Second, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Tenth Circuits.
The Seventh Circuit further found that, while an “entire hostile work environment” constitutes a single unlawful practice, a plaintiff may assert multiple separate hostile environment claims, as long as there were separate acts underlying each claim bearing no relation to each other. In this case, there was an 18-month gap between the first set of harassment and the second, which the Seventh Circuit found to be significant. The Seventh Circuit noted the fact that the first set of harassers were different from the second set of harassers was not relevant to the analysis, as it is the employer, and not the coworkers, who is responsible for the harassment under the law. On the other hand, a change in managers is relevant to whether the acts of harassment are related.