Dear Dawg: One of my teachers sent me a memo that said: “I am SAD.  I’d like to meet with you to discuss how you can accommodate me.”  What the hell is this about?  He’s SAD?!  Well, I’m so sorry about that. I’ve had my SAD days too, but you press on. What am I supposed to do by way of “accommodation”?  Give him a candy bar?  Tell him to take the day off?  Maybe a nice shoulder rub?  I’ve drafted a response, and I’d like your input. Here’s what I plan to say:

Dear Teacher: I hear you are SAD.  Awwwwww!  You poor thing!!   I am soooooo sorry!  Now kindly get over your self pity and get back in the classroom to do the job we pay you to do.  I am often SAD as well. At other times I am HAPPY.  Sometimes I feel ANGRY.  Like when teachers put their personal problems ahead of their professional responsibilities.  That makes me ANGRY.  Sometimes I get so ANGRY that I fire the teacher.  This makes me HAPPY.  I THINK YOU GET THE MESSAGE.

Waddyathink, Dawg?

Dawg:  We think you should slow down, Pardner.  We expect that the teacher did not mean “sad” but rather, S.A.D.—Social Anxiety Disorder.  This condition, previously called “social phobia” is recognized by the DSM-V as a mental disorder.

This came up in an employment case recently decided by the 4th Circuit. The employee claimed that she was terminated because she had a disability (S.A.D.) and because she sought accommodation for it. The court held that she presented a plausible case, and was entitled to a trial to attempt to prove up her facts.

This is one of the first cases to reach a Circuit Court level that addresses the expansion of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  In 2009, Congress deliberately broadened the scope of this law in an effort to cover more people.  In this case, the employer argued that whatever the plaintiff’s condition, it did not “substantially limit” her in any “major life activity.” The plaintiff asserted that her S.A.D. rendered her substantially limited in her ability to “interact with others.” The employer countered by arguing that “interacting with others” is not a “major life activity.”

The statute (ADA) includes a list of “major life activities” and it does not include “interacting with others.” But the EEOC regulations do include it.  The court held that the ADA list was “nonexhaustive” and it was well within the discretion of the EEOC to include “interacting with others” as a major life activity. The Court looked at it this way:

Few activities are more central to the human condition than interacting with others.  If “bending” and “lifting” are major life activities, [cite omitted] it is certainly reasonable for the EEOC to conclude that interacting with others falls in the same category.”

So don’t blow this off, Buddy.  Call your teacher in for the beginning of the “interactive process.” Keep in mind that S.A.D. as a mental disorder is a serious condition—it’s a long way from simple shyness or slight nervousness in social situations. But if a teacher claims to have this condition, you should explore it, and determine if accommodation is called for, and reasonable.

The case is Jacobs v. North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, decided by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on March 12, 2015.