Kenya Madden was hired as a police dispatcher for the Village of Hillsboro, Illinois, in July 2007. During the 10 week training period, she informed the trainer that she had narcolepsy, a disorder which causes people to fall asleep at unplanned moments. Some weeks later, she also informed her supervisor of her condition. The supervisor reacted with alarm. He had visions of Madden falling asleep in the middle of an urgent dispatch. He asked for Madden's resignation. When she refused, he terminated her.
There is no question that Madden's supervisor mishandled the situation. With visions of disaster spinning in his head like demonic sugarplum fairies, he hastily put an end to the employment relationship. He did not ask for any details about the condition: how long she had experienced it; the degree to which medication controlled it; the last time she had an episode. He did not request permission to speak to Madden's doctor. He reacted out of a fear totally out of proportion to the situation.
But Madden is not without fault. If her condition was under control, why did she feel obligated to disclose it twice (to the trainer and the supervisor)? If no accommodation was needed - and none was - then why did she bring up the issue?
We can read several things into the modest settlement: while the Village of Hillsboro mishandled the situation and violated the ADA, their actions appear to based upon the limited information provided by Madden: she could have attempted to reassure her supervisor by explaining the successful medical treatment she was receiving. She apparently was silent on the issue. A more gratuitous termination would have resulted in a six or seven figure settlement. Instead, Madden receives $10,000 for her trouble, with an extra dollar tossed in for good measure. That's a pretty clear indication that while Madden was wronged, she may have had some responsibility for the situation.
This case illustrates a common problem in the way people perceive disability. We tend to jump to conclusions. "Narcolepsy" in a dispatcher sounds like an invitation to catastrophe.But it ain't necessarily so. Try asking a few questions to determine just how big the risk is. Talk is cheap and talk, in situations like this, is definitely the way to go.