Latex Allergy Discrimination

I defended latex glove allergy lawsuits in the late ’90s/early ’00s. They were just awful cases for plaintiffs. But that does not minimize the suffering of many who have latex allergies, a little-talked about problem that really affects the lives of a few people.

In Meade v. Shangri-La Partnership, the Plaintiff had a severe latex allergy. She got it in the ’90s from latex gloves, as many healthcare providers did. She sent her child to preschool at the Children’s Manor Montessori in Howard County (I’m not sure if it was Ellicott City or Columbia). She wanted the preschool to remove latex gloves from the school so she could visit and “be part of [her] son’s preschool experience.”

To me, reading the case, while I sympathize with her injury, she sounds a little melodramatic. Anyway, the school made matters much worse by kicking the kid out because they feared a lawsuit. Seriously? Of course, a lawsuit is exactly what followed. What a mess.

Anyway, a Howard County jury agreed with the Plaintiff, finding that she had “a physical or mental impairment which substantially limit[ed] one or more of [her] major life activities,” and that the Plaintiff was denied the accommodations of the school because of discrimination, and further found that the school had retaliated against her. The jury awarded Meade $1,683 in economic damages, $5,000 in non-economic damages, and $22,800 in attorney’s fees.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed the verdict saying that there was no substantial impairment, citing latex cases that found that while a latex allergy is an impairment, there was not enough proof of substantial impairment.

The Maryland Court of Appeals disagreed in a 4-3 opinion (dissenters were judges Battaglia, Adkins, and Raker). The majority of the court disagreed that the trial judge should have “‘strictly’” interpreted the definition of “handicap” provided by the ADA because, despite the similarity in wording, there were significant differences between the federal cases under the ADA and the Howard County Code provisions at issue.

This is an interesting case, but I’m a little out of my depth explaining disabilities/ADA opinion (although that has not stopped me so far). You can find the full opinion here.