I recently read through an old disability discrimination decision by the Supreme Court of Gondor, issued by the court back during the tail end of the Third Age. For you nerds, the case name is Sméagol a/k/a Gollum v. Frodo Baggins, et al.
Of particular interest to me as an employment lawyer was the disability discrimination claim raised by Sméagol under the ADA (Ardans with Disabilities Act, Arda being their name for Earth, obvs), a strikingly similar statute to our own Americans with Disabilities Act.
Sméagol suffered from a disability in the form of dissociative identity disorder (formerly split personality disorder). This disease affects his mental status and makes daily life functions, such as concentrating, thinking, scheming, and plotting, much more difficult than normal. Thus, his condition constitutes a disability under the ADA.
Frodo Baggins, an employee of the joint public/private conglomerate known as the Council of Elrond, was sent off on his assigned work task of destroying the One Ring of Sauron in the cracks of Mount Doom. Samwise Gamgee was sent along with Frodo and reported directly to Mr. Baggins.
At a certain point, Sméagol met up with Frodo and Sam in the rocky crags of the Emyn Muil. The record conflicts here as to the exact course of events, with the defendants alleging that Sméagol attacked them and attempted to steal the Ring, raising both conversion and trade secrets issues, while Sméagol alleged that the Ring actually belonged to him and had been given to him as a birthday present. The court elides the question of ownership, as it’s not relevant to the ultimate issues.
What is agreed upon is that Sméagol thereafter joined the employ of Frodo and Sam, with Mr. Gamgee providing the most direct supervision of Sméagol during this term of employment.
Now, the Defendants argued (unsuccessfully) that Sméagol was never actually an employee of the Quest, but rather worked as an independent contractor. However, immediately upon joining the company, Defendants placed a rope around Sméagol’s neck. This level of control, as noted in IRS guidelines and relevant appellate guidance, indicates that Sméagol was more likely an employee, not an independent contractor, and thus the ADA applies.
The rope actually leads to the next legal question confronting the Court. The Defendants directly observed manifestations of Sméagol’s mental illness, thus placing them on notice of his disability. (Sméagol had not been employed for a year by that point, so FMLA leave was not available.) Frodo also knew that Sméagol had been tortured and suffered from PTSD. Despite their knowledge, Defendants Gamgee and Baggins nonetheless place the aforementioned rope around Sméagol’s neck.
The defendants defended this decision by arguing that wearing the rope was an essential function of Sméagol’s position at that time. (He was later promoted to a full-fledged guide and thus the rope was no longer required, according to the record.) Without it, they argued, Sméagol might have wandered off and been unable to accomplish his tasks. It was also a matter of safety, they allege, akin to personal protective equipment (PPE). Finally, given concerns about Sméagol taking the Ring to a competitor, the defendants argued that the leash was akin to a non-compete agreement and was reasonably limited in time and scope so as to protect a legitimate business interest.
The court found, however, that even if true, Sméagol’s request to “take it off us,” constituted a request for a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. It does appear from the facts that the parties all engaged in the interactive process, although only after hours of Gamgee dragging Sméagol through the rocky pathways of the Emyn Muil. This initial refusal to engage with Sméagol’s requests (and his obvious allergic reaction to the Elven rope) violates the ADA. I would also argue that Sméagol has tort claims for assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and false imprisonment.
Eventually, the Defendants did accommodate Sméagol’s disability and allowed him to travel without the leash. However, at that point, Mr. Gamgee engaged in a protracted and retaliatory campaign against Sméagol in the form of harassment based on Sméagol’s well-documented disability. Gamgee admits that he kept up a steady stream of negativity about Sméagol (his subordinate, remember) to Mr. Baggins, the ultimate supervisor and decisionmaker. Further, and without provocation, Gamgee created two rather nasty nicknames for Mr. Sméagol: Slinker and Stinker. These nicknames were directly targeted at Mr. Sméagol’s disability, i.e., dissociative identity disorder.
Even more egregious, Mr. Baggins personally observed Gamgee’s harassment of Sméagol based on his disability. While the record does show that Baggins talked to Gamgee about the harassment, Baggins failed to take proper action to redress Gamgee’s illegal and unlawful behavior, and the harassment continued. Based on the severe and pervasive nature of Gamgee’s harassment, it’s clear that Sméagol had been subjected to a hostile work environment based on his disability.
Sméagol is yet another victim of unlawful disability discrimination and harassment in the workplace of Middle-earth. If you believe that you, like Sméagol, have been subjected to disability discrimination, please do not hesitate to reach out to a local employment lawyer immediately. I treat all claims very seriously, for they are…precious to me.