March 2021
Missouri Appellate Court finds E. Coli infection can be a disability, leave can be a reasonable accommodation under the MHRA
Clinton Turley

In Sherry v. City of Lee’s Summit, Missouri (WD83635), in a fact-specific holding, the Western District found an employee’s E. coli infection met the definition of disabled under the Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”).

 

There, a City employee contracted an E. coli infection which, in part because the severity of the infection was increased due to the employee’s pancreatitis and prior cancer, required six weeks to heal. The employee had exhausted all of his available leave and therefore submitted a request for leave under the City’s discretionary leave policy. The City denied the request. The employee brought suit for disability discrimination under the MHRA. The jury found in favor of the employee an awarded $300,000.00 in compensatory damages.

 

On appeal, the City argued, in part, that the E. coli infection was a “temporary recoverable illness” which failed to meet the definition of disabled under the MHRA. The Court disagreed, finding that while the infection was temporary and recoverable, it was not minor. The employee was hospitalized and placed in intensive care. His recovery took six weeks and included a drain on his liver and intravenous antibiotics. The Court declined to disturb the jury’s finding that the requested accommodation of discretionary leave was a reasonable accommodation.

 

However, again, this was a fact-specific holding and the Court was careful to caution that extended leave may not always be a reasonable accommodation nor would an E. coli infection always be a disability under the MHRA.

 

On March 24, 2021, Defendant City of Lee’s Summit, Missouri filed a Motion for Rehearing and Motion for Transfer to the Supreme Court. On April 27, 2021, the Court denied both Motions.