Did Trump Make a Legal Goof In Firing Stacie J?

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Apprentice contestant deemed Â?crazyÂ? by other applicants and accepted by Trump as a basis for termination could have actually violated the American Disabilities Act.

According to the American Disabilities Act (“ADA”), a company covered by the Act, may not discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual in regard to job application procedures such as hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees.

The term Adisability@ according to the ADA means, with respect to an individual, one who: (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of that person, (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. However, to be protected by the ADA, an individual with a disability must be able to perform the essential functions of the employment position for which the individual applied. The ADA protects individuals from discrimination even if they are not yet employed, but are only applying for a job.

Against this legal backdrop, a review of the events of Thursday’s latest Apprentice reality T.V. program indicates that there were various ADA issues that Mr. Trump’s legal staff should have brought to his attention prior to his decision to fire Stacie J. Essentially, on the first episode of the new series Stacie J exhibited signs of what her teammates deemed was irrational behavior. What viewers saw was unclear. At one point Stacie irrationally believed that other team members were purposely ignoring her. She also exhibited other signs of erratic behavior, including picking up an eight ball and using it to forecast the future. Her teammates claimed they felt threatened and were nervous around her following the episode and dismissed her as a serious player following the event.

In the following episodes, Stacie was given low level or in some cases completely meaningless tasks. She was called into the boardroom on two consecutive episodes, although, admittedly, the other team members had difficulty identifying specific tasks that she failed at. Finally, one of the team members confessed to Mr. Trump that the reason for Stacie’s appearance in the boardroom was due primarily because of the erratic behavior she exhibited in Episode 1 and the concerns those presented. One of the team members even suggested that Stacie’s condition may be clinical. After Trump verified with the other team members as to the accuracy of those events he fired Stacie for being a “loose cannon.”

Prior to Trump’s decision, had Trump considered the ADA, he would have been privy to this ADA analysis. Stacie J may actually have had a mental disability. Whether her condition was schizophrenia, paranoia or borderline personality disorder, she may have been covered by the ADA. However, even if Stacie J had in fact no disability, if Trump regarded her as being disabled, meaning if he wrote her off as “crazy”, a “loose cannon” or something of the like, then arguably his company regarded her as being disabled and she would then likely be entitled to ADA protection.

In Trump’s defense, his best argument for firing Stacie in spite of the ADA was that he couldn’t take a chance with someone like her running one of his companies. In other words, Stacie J could not perform the “essential functions” of the position. Understandably, the position Trump had was of such high level, that he simply couldn’t bet the ranch on a crazy person.

However, given the dynamics of the show, this defense, while strong on its face, may not actually prevail. The show provides Trump a unique opportunity to actually observe and review each candidate’s performance. As such, the issue is not strictly whether Stacie J is a loose cannon, but rather whether that craziness interferes with her ability to perform the essential functions of the job. Consequently, what Trump should have done is to verify from the team members that Stacie J failed at various tasks on the weekly project. Unlike many employers interviewing candidates for a position, their knowledge of a candidate’s performance ability is second hand, as it comes through either a resume or professional reference.

As such, had Stacie J, week after week, been able to perform on the projects at a high level and repeatedly demonstrate her reliability, business judgment and responsibility, she could have shown Mr. Trump over that time period her ability to be the apprentice. In such case, his concern that she was a “loose cannon” would be legally unjustified.

In this case, what was lacking from the reports of Stacie’s team members was the identification of specific tasks at which she failed which demonstrate that she could not perform the essential elements of the eventual position. Trump had to hear something along the lines of “Stacie J failed at the task of securing the toothpaste correctly, which was essential to the project. She failed because she didn’t account for x, y, and z. This put the project in jeopardy.”

Instead, the team members Maria and Liz, really couldn’t identify any specific tasks she ruined. In the prior episode, the project leader, Ivana, admitted to knowingly placing Stacie on a task that was useless in order to get her out of the way. However, it appeared to viewers that she did that based on her perception of Stacie J. In that sense, there is no question that Ivana regarded Stacie J as disabled in accordance with the ADA statute.    

Finally, it should be noted that in no way does this article suggest or allege that: (a) Donald Trump is a bigot; (b) Donald Trump knowingly or actually violated the ADA statute; or (c) Stacie J would actually prevail in a lawsuit. It does however, affirmatively suggest to managers, business owners and human resource departments across America that it is illegal to simply terminate an employee for a profound belief of that employee’s mental instability.     

About Morris E. Fischer, Esq.

Mr. Fischer is a partner of the law firm, Snider & Fischer, LLC, based in Baltimore, Maryland. The firm concentrates in employment law with an emphasis in employment discrimination. Readers can learn more about the firm at their website, http://www.1800discrimination.com

Contact:

Morris E. Fischer, Esq.

1-800-DISCRIMINATION

http://www.1800discrimination.com

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