WA Case Update: Is Respiratory Sensitivity to Mold Considered a Disability?

From the desk of John Kreutzer: Can an individual’s respiratory problems resulting from mold or other potentially toxic substances constitute a disability under Washington’s Law against Discrimination (WLAD)?

Claims Pointer: The Court of Appeals held that an employee’s respiratory difficulties as a result of mold could constitute a disability. The takeaway from this case is that the term “disability” as defined by statute is a broad term that can encompass various sensory, mental or physical impairments. In this case, the Court reasoned that Hartman’s respiratory problems could constitute a physical impairment that substantially limited her ability to perform her job. This case stresses the importance of acting promptly to accommodate a potentially disabled worker.

Hartman v. YMCA, No. 71765-1-I, Court of Appeals of Washington, Division I (Nov. 9, 2015).

In May 2012, two months after Sara Hartman (Hartman) was hired as an assistant teacher at the Dale Turner Family Child Development Care Center (CDC), located in a North Seattle branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), she began experiencing symptoms as a result of mold exposure. Hartman experienced daily headaches, coughing, burning eyes and sinus and chest burning. She suspected mold in the CDC’s HVAC system and enlisted her husband, a licensed HVAC specialist, to inspect. Peter Hartman located mold and informed Sarah Morris, the Regional Senior Program Director of Childcare for the YMCA, of his findings as well as how to resolve the moisture issue. Bob Haskell, the senior building engineer, investigated the HVAC and attempted to install new parts for the system, but was prevented due to classes in session.

By early August, more staff and children complained of negative health effects. Peter was again retained to perform an inspection of the HVAC system and discovered many of the same problems remained. Peter sent an email to CDC management listing all the issues, which was then...

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