Charlie Sheen claims perceived disability discrimination

Russ Samson Iowa Employment and Labor Law Dickinson Law Firm Des Moines Iowa

Posted on 03/14/2011 at 10:11 AM by Russell Samson

Charlie Sheen's $100 million lawsuit against Warner Brothers (WB Studio Enterprises) and Chuck Lorre includes two claims under California's state law prohibiting discrimination based on disability including a perceived disability claim.  A copy of the complaint and a link to the original document in pdf format are available on the Los Angeles Times website. Sheen asserts that WB has accused him of having physical and mental disabilities and has quoted health experts claiming Sheen is in an alleged manic and/or bi-polar state or describing him as suffering from 'hypomaniac' psychological state.  The lawsuit goes on to claim that rather than accommodate Sheen, WB instead terminated Sheen's employment agreement. The complaint continues:

At no time was Mr. Sheen's performance of his acting duties, with a reasonable accommodation for Warner Bros.[‘s] claim of his alleged physical and mental disabilities, a danger to either Mr. Sheen or any other person's health or safety.  Neither would an accommodation of Mr. Sheen's medical needs based on Warner Bros.[‘s] claim of Mr. Sheen's alleged physical or mental disability have imposed an undue hardship on WB.

Sheen also alleges that Lorre 'engaged in an ongoing campaign of harassment, including Mr. Lorre 'stat[ing] publicly, that Mr. Sheen suffered from physical and mental maladies.'  Later, the complaint focuses on what it calls the 'vanity cards at the end of Mr. Lorre's shows' where it is alleged that there were 'outrageous insults and derogatory remarks . . . specifically targeting Mr. Sheen's alleged illness.'  Like (and this is quoted in the Complaint):

. . . write a country song entitled, ‘Hooker in the Closet'.  (Chorus: ‘There's a hooker in my closet, ‘neath the monogrammed robes, don't know how she got there and I can't find my clothes.  Officer Krupke, how are you tonight?  I've misplaced my watch but I'm feeling all right.')

Oh, the harassment!  Oh, the anguish!  Oh, the public humiliation that vanity card no doubt caused poor Charlie Sheen!  Having for decades defended employers from claims of discrimination, there is very little which surprises me in terms of the claims that employees advance against their employers.  But Sheen's complaint provides a good lesson on claims of perceived disability.  Those are the kind where the complaining party claims 'I don't have a ‘disability,' but you thought that I did, and you took action based on that perception.' A word to the wise:  Focus on the facts of the employee's misconduct and performance problems, and deal with those.  Don't assume why the employee might have acted that way, and don't try to deal with that assumption.  Stick to the facts.  As noted earlier, Sheen's recent complaint is based on California's law.  Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended, discrimination and harassment based on a perceived disability is prohibited; however, an employer has no duty to reasonably accommodate a perceived disability.

The material in this blog is not intended, nor should it be construed or relied upon, as legal advice. Please consult with an attorney if specific legal information is needed.


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