Menopause is approaching for me, and I am really looking forward to those momentary personal tropical vacations (i.e. hot flashes). I hear from my more senior female friends that the symptoms of menopause – irrational emotional upheavals, poor sleep, dizziness, migraines, etc. – can be quite debilitating, as well as frustrating. You might think that these physical symptoms and their ensuing limitations on activity might be considered a disability, in light of the expansive definition under the amended Americans with Disabilities Act (ADAAA). As I (somewhat flippantly) tell my clients, really, everyone is disabled now. But a federal district court in California says it’s not.
In Sipple v. Crossmark, a female employee began experiencing symptoms of menopause, including the aforementioned hot flashes, migraines and dizziness. She began wearing clothing with short sleeves and short pants, which were in violation of her dress code as a product demonstrator. After her supervisor counseled her several times on her clothing, she provided a doctor’s note requiring dress code accommodations. There were discussions with the Human Resources manager about other possible accommodations, but eventually the HR manager determined that other employers did not accommodate menopause. She then told the employee that the Company could not provide the requested dress code accommodations. The employee sued, claiming violations of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), California’s anti-discrimination law.
FEHA disability claims are assessed under ADAAA standards, since the state law is based on the federal law. Looking to federal caselaw, the court found that menopause, in and of itself, is not a disability, but rather “a natural progression over time . . . It is an inevitable part of the human condition for women.” The court did recognize that the effects of menopause, if they affect a body system and limit a major life activity, can constitute a disability – but that the employee didn’t establish those circumstances in this case.
Legally, I know that this was the right decision. Still, I’m sure the judge was a man.