The first time I heard the term “sex addiction” was in 2010, when Tiger Woods announced to the public that he would be stepping away from the PGA Tour to attend rehab. The announcement shook the sports world and sparked a conversation about an addiction that seemed to only happen in Hollywood.
Since then, the term “sex addiction” and its diagnosis have gained some scientific and public recognition, and this week, the condition was used as the basis for an ex-employee’s disability discrimination claim.
On November 30th, the plaintiff Karen Manson filed her complaint in federal court in Texas. Manson alleges that she was diagnosed with love/sex addiction which required that she attend therapy and limit her private interactions with members of the opposite sex. Manson’s story is that she worked as Director of IT Operations as an exemplary employee, but shortly after informing her supervisor that she had been diagnosed with love/sex addiction, she was fired.
Manson argues that sex addiction is a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is defined as a mental or physical condition which substantially limits one or more of an employee’s major life activities. She further claims that she was qualified in her role as Director of IT Operations, but her employer chose termination instead of entertaining reasonable accommodations for her disability.
Manson’s discrimination claim will have to overcome language in the ADA, which expressly excludes the following conditions from the definition of “disability” under the act:
- Homosexuality and bisexuality
- Transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, or other sexual behavior disorders;
- Compulsive gambling, kleptomania, or pyromania; or
- Psychoactive substance use disorders resulting from current illegal use of drugs.1
The question for the court will be whether sex addiction is one of those “other sexual behavior disorders” excluded from protection under the ADA.
Currently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) considers alcohol addiction as a protected disability under the ADA. On the other hand, the ADA, as noted above, excludes gambling addiction and illicit drug addiction from ADA coverage, but an employee’s recovery from such an addiction is protected.
Even today, the scientific community is split on its categorization of sex addiction. Prominent health organizations like the American Psychiatric Association (APA) do not classify compulsive sexual behavior as a diagnosable mental health disorder while the World Health organization (WHO) deems sex addiction to be a mental disease.
Employers should note that they are not prevented from disciplining an employee with a disability for a violation of a workplace conduct policy. For example, if an employer discovered pornography on an employee’s computer the employer could still legally discipline that employee for violating a computer usage policy. Therefore, even if sex/pornography addiction was covered by the ADA, the employee could legally be subject to discipline so long as the computer usage policy is job-related and consistent with business necessity.
1SEC. 511. AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT OF 1990, 1990 Enacted S. 933, 101 Enacted S. 933, 104 Stat. 327, 376, 101 P.L. 336, 1990 Enacted S. 933, 101 Enacted S. 933