Maryland Business Law Blog

Maryland High Court Skips Opportunity to Give Businesses Guidance on Addressing Claims of the Disabled

Posted by Edward Sharkey on Mon, 02/20/2012 - 23:08

The Maryland Court of Appeals recently decided a case in which a woman with a latex allergy sued her son's school for discrimination for declining to remove all latex products from the school. The school attempted to accommodate her by not using latex around her son and allowing her to pick up her son at the front desk so that she did not have to enter the building.

She sued, claiming that her allergy qualified her as "handicapped" under Maryland disability law and that the school was discriminating against her. In a 4-3 decision, the Court of Appeals agreed, and it upheld a jury verdict against the school.

The dissenting judges questioned whether a latex allergy should qualify as a legal disability requiring a business to accommodate it under threat of liability. They pointed out that a parent with hay fever ought not be able to force his child's outdoor soccer league to move indoors. That a person with a food allergy ought not be able to stop a restaurant from selling that food.

I'm sure business owners reading this are picturing how such a rule could make operating their own business impractical. The dissenting judges said the Court should have created a standard by which businesses can measure their conduct, rather than leaving it to juries to decide, case by case, who is disabled.

The solution? Only the legislature can fix this, by passing a rigorous standard to be applied uniformly by the courts. That will give individuals and businesses notice of what conduct is acceptable and what is unacceptable under the law. Until then, be careful out there. It can be tough to tell what will get you sued.

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