Sleep Disordered Employees Can Be Target of Workplace Bias

July 18, 2008 ( - A federal appellate court ruled that federal employees can pursue a workplace disability discrimination claim under the federal Rehabilitation Act that the person was disabled by a sleep disorder without proving the sleep problems affected his life while awake.

The ruling came from theU.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in the case involving an aspiring FBI agent who was told he would not graduate from the FBI Academy, which plaintiff Martin Desmond alleged represented an act of disability discrimination.

An appellate panel overturned a lower court decision dismissing the case, asserting that Desmond had presented enough evidence to persuade a jury that his post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was a substantial limitation on sleep. Desmond also presented enough evidence that the FBI’s reasons for dismissing him — that he lacked emotional maturity and a cooperative spirit were a pretext for its PTSD-based bias.

Desmond’s PTSD resulted from a traumatic incident that occurred two years before he entered the academy, when he was held hostage in his mother’s house by an armed robber-rapist who repeatedly threatened to kill him and then return to rape his mother.

According to the opinion written by Circuit Judge David S. Tatel, Desmond repeatedly tried to secure a post-training assignment to the FBI’s Cleveland division. His inability to get orders closer to home just worsened his problems sleeping since the robbery.

A jury, Tatel said, could conclude “that receiving two to four hours of sleep per night for five months constitutes a significant restriction on the ability to sleep as compared with … the average experience of the general public.”

The ruling is available  here .