Thursday, May 23, 2013

Does release of football player due to diabetes equal discrimination?

Last week, news came out that the New England Patriots released defensive lineman Kyle Love, who had recently been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. There is no indication that the release was related to the diagnoses other than the timing, and this writer is not alleging that the release was due to Love's diabetes. Still, it is an interesting question whether employment discrimination laws are implicated when a sports team make personnel decisions based on a diabetes diagnoses.

Certainly, diabetes is considered a "disability" under federal and Massachusetts discrimination laws. An employer normally must offer reasonable accommodations to an employee who has a disability, such as diabetes, if doing so would allow the employee to perform the essential duties and functions of the position. For most employers, diabetes is easy to accommodate as the employee simply needs to be able to check his or her blood sugar periodically, administer insulin shots if necessary, and have access to food.

For a football team, however, it is not hard to see how such an accommodation could create significant disadvantages. A coach needs to know that a player can enter a game at a moment's notice, and remain in the game for long periods of time. (New England's coach certainly knows the importance of the latter, as its offense regularly plays a hurry-up style that does not allow for the defense to substitute its players.)

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