Before my son entered this world a few weeks ago, I would spend a few moments each evening reading a children’s book to him/his mother’s stomach in an effort to instill in him a love of literature. This time spent together reading books has been a great opportunity of perhaps one-sided bonding, as well as giving me a chance to re-read some of the books that were my favorites as a child. Generally, browsing through the books evokes much nostalgia for my own childhood and anticipation and excitement for the future times I’ll be reading to my own child. Until last night.
Last night, I began reading to my son the classic children’s book, Robert the Rose Horse by Joan Heilbroner. I loved this particular book when I was a kid, and so my anticipation was doubly strong as I started my narration of Robert’s adventures. But as I read, a sense of horror grew in my chest at the gross injustice depicted on the page. This was not the child-friendly story I recalled from my nostalgia-tinged memories. Instead, I saw unfolding before me a tragic violation of the civil rights guaranteed to our protagonist, and I was nearly reduced to tears.
For those of you not familiar with the story, let me summarize: Robert, an intelligent and kindly farm horse, celebrates his birthday in rousing fashion, with loyal and generous friends, thoughtful gifts, and most importantly, a beautiful birthday cake prepared by his mother with her own four hooves. The cake, it should be noted, is decorated with actual roses. Robert, his equine heart full of love and affection for those in celebration with him, leans down to smell the lovely roses. As he does, “his eyes begin to itch, his nose began to itch,” and he sneezed a giant sneeze that blew all his friends and family to the ground.
Due to the severity of his respiratory reaction, Robert is examined by a medical professional, whose dour diagnosis dooms our domesticated draft animal to permanent exile. Robert, you see, has a serious allergy to roses, and the farm, his beloved home for so many years, is covered with roses. His only chance for survival and the survival of his friends and family is to leave the farm and head into the city.
Industrious Robert quickly finds a job pulling a milk cart. Despite the difficult manual labor, Robert is happy with his life—at least he is for a while. One day, a passerby comes up to Robert. The passerby is wearing a rose in his lapel, which Robert inadvertently smells. His eyes began to itch, his nose began to itch, and, well, the resulting sneeze took out half the city block.
At this point in the story, I figured Robert’s boss would express some sort of concern for Robert’s condition, or perhaps offer a solution so that Robert would not have to be in a situation where roses are present. But no! His boss bridles at the results of Robert’s condition and instead of harnessing his anger, he immediately begins to publicly berate the distraught Robert for his involuntary allergic reaction to the rose and then fires Robert for his disability!
I was already on high alert due to the doctor’s calloused recommendation to exile Robert from the farm instead of, I don’t know, prescribing medication or other possibly medicinal remedies, you know, like a doctor should. But now I wasn’t just witnessing a breach of a doctor’s standard of care; I was witnessing a gross violation of Robert’s civil rights as protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”)! In a children’s book, no less!
The violations continued throughout the remainder of the story in a sadly repeating pattern. Robert, saddled with a disability but refusing to quit, manages to find another position, the allergy manifests itself, and he is fired for his allergy without a single attempt by his tackless employer to provide a reasonable accommodation. It was a travesty of justice, and there was no one for Robert to turn to. I resolved then and there to expose these employers’ illegal actions to the world in the hopes that other horses suffering from disabilities would be more willing to come forward and challenge this illegal type of behavior.
Unfortunately, given the publication date of this historical account and the average lifespan of a horse, Robert likely died before passage of the ADA (rumors suggest it was a drug overdose, as Robert lacked the willpower to stop being such a high horse). However, had he undergone such treatment today and had he come to me immediately (and had he not been a horse [not that there’s anything wrong with that]), our office could have helped him. You see, Robert’s allergy is a disability under the law because it’s a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Working and breathing are considered major life activities, and the allergy certainly limits his ability to work without sometimes catastrophic results. The ADA prevents discrimination on the basis of a disability and requires employers to reasonably accommodate their disabled employees and de-stabled pack animals. Robert should have filed a charge of discrimination with the Equine Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before bringing a lawsuit against these employers for their illegal acts.
If you or a loved one has suffered discrimination on the basis of a disability, including asthma or allergies or being a horse of course of course, please contact our office today for a consultation that will in no way involve looking in your mouth. Well…maybe just a bit.