Lisa Meade was diagnosed with a latex allergy in 1998. In 1999, she learned that the staff at her two year-old son’s preschool wore powdered latex gloves when changing the children’s diapers. Meade spoke with the School Administrator about her allergy, and her concerns about the use of powdered latex gloves, which included potential airborne exposure, and secondary exposure, as latex particles may attach to the powder disbursed when the gloves are used. She brought in boxes of non-latex vinyl gloves for the teachers to use on her son, and she asked the school to switch to non-powdered latex gloves for use throughout the school.
The school tried to accommodate Meade. The staff was directed not to use latex gloves while changing Meade’s son. Meade also was allowed to pick up her son at the school’s front desk so that she did not have to travel further into the building and risk exposure to latex.
Meade was not satisfied. She wrote to the School Administrator, who then asked Ms. Meade to withdraw her son from the school.
Meade filed a complaint with the Howard County Office of Human Rights, claiming that the school refused to make reasonable accommodations for her latex allergy and thereby violated the Howard County Code, which prohibits discrimination in the provision of public accommodations.
Meade testified at trial that the school’s use of powdered latex gloves prevented her from being more active in her son’s education. Meade testified that she could not spend time in the classroom, speak with teachers, see class projects, go to the school library, or observe classes, because she did not want to expose herself to airborne latex. The court concluded that Meade’s latex allergy was an impairment that substantially limited her major life activities of “socialization” and “parenting,” and there was sufficient evidence that the school discriminated against her because of her “handicap” by refusing to switch to non-powdered latex gloves.
There was a dissenting opinion filed by Judge Sally Adkins (and joined in by Judge Lynne Battaglia), who criticized the majority for failing to provide any meaningful legal standard. In essence, Judge Adkins wrote, the majority ignored whether any limitations on Meade’s parenting activities were substantial. Judge Adkins noted the majority’s decision would be far reaching, “because a large segment of the population has some health condition that impairs their ability to function fully in all the activities that they may deem highly desirable. And yet, surely not all of these people should be encouraged to file disability discrimination claims.”
The case is Meade v. Shangri-La Partnership and a Business t/a & d/b/a Children’s Manor Montessori School. You can read all of the court’s opinions here