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Legal Issues: Another Strike Against Discrimination

The tide may be turning in the fight to end discrimination against people with brain disorders in long-term disability policies. The Israel Discount Bank of New York recently agreed to a settlement in an anti-discrimination case (Leonard F. v. Israel Discount Bank of New York) brought by a former employee suffering from major depression. The former employee argued that the bank’s long-term disability policy violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by imposing limits (24 months) on benefits for people suffering from mental disabilities, while imposing no such limits on physical disabilities.

Although the bank did not admit to any violation of the ADA, it agreed to adopt a long-term disability policy that would provide equal benefits to all workers, regardless of whether they suffer from "psychiatric" or "physical" disabilities. Quoted in the February 22 issue of The Washington Post, Paul M. Igasaki, chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), predicted that the "settlement will go a long way toward ensuring that individuals with mental disabilities are treated the same as individuals with physical disabilities in employer-provided insurance plans." Chairman Igasaki also stated that the additional costs of providing non-discriminatory coverage of mental illnesses in long-term disability policies are minimal. The EEOC played a significant role as co-counsel in this case.

The Leonard F. case is very similar to a case being supported by the NAMI Campaign to End Discrimination that is pending in a federal district court in Alexandria, Virginia. This NAMI-supported case, Lewis v. Aetna Life Insurance Company and Kmart Corporation, is expected to go to trial in March or April of this year. Interested readers can see the January/February 1998 issue of the NAMI Advocate for more details about the Lewis case.