Court Finds Sex Addiction is Not a Disability Under the ADA

December 16, 2021

By: Stephen B. Stern

     In Manson v. Careington Int’l Corp., Civil Action No. 4:20-CV-00916-SDJ-CAN, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 165603 (E.D. Tex. Aug. 6, 2021), the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas held that a “love/sex addiction” is not a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and, even if it were a disability, the plaintiff did not advise her employer of any accommodations that would enable her to perform the essential functions of her job, which also was fatal to her claim.  

     In Manson, Karen Manson (“Ms. Manson”) worked as the Director of IT Operations for Careington International Corporation (“Careington”).  She alleged in her complaint that she advised her supervisor in December 2019 that she “suspected she suffered from a love/sex addiction and was in the process of identifying a therapist with whom to pursue treatment.”  On January 19, 2020, the website of one of Careington’s customers suffered “a widespread and lengthy outage.”  Ms. Manson’s department was responsible for addressing the outage.  On January 23, 2020, Ms. Manson took a personal day off from work “to attend an emergency counseling session relating to her condition,” where she was officially diagnosed as having a “love/sex addiction.”  When Ms. Manson returned to work the following day, she advised her immediate supervisor of her love/sex addiction and was terminated from employment that same day based on the customer website outage.  Ms. Manson filed suit, claiming discrimination under the ADA and failure to accommodate under the ADA.  Careington filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

     The court started its analysis by examining the definition of “disability” under the ADA, as both her discrimination and failure to accommodate claims required her to be disabled under the ADA.  The ADA defines “disability” as “(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities . . .; (B) a record of such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment.”  The ADA, however, specifically excludes from the definition of disability “transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, or other sexual behavior disorders.”

     Careington argued that Ms. Manson’s claim must fail because a “love/sex addiction” cannot be a disability with “other sexual behavior disorders” specifically excluded from the definition of disability under the ADA.  Careington further noted that the American Psychiatric Association excluded “sex addiction” from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (“DSM-5”).  Ms. Manson, in turn, argued that her “love/sex addiction” was not a “sexual behavior disorder” excluded from the definition of disability under the ADA because her condition was a “mental disorder that requires that she limit her interactions with members of the opposite sex[,]” which contrasts with sexual behavior disorders that involve “viewing any sexually explicit content or touching oneself or another person in a sexual way.”  The court rejected Ms. Manson’s attempt to avoid the ADA’s exclusion of her condition by noting, among other things, that the plain text of the statute applied and Ms. Manson cited no authority whatsoever for her claimed distinction.  The court further noted that no other court has recognized a “love/sex addiction” as a disability under the ADA and, in fact, the few cases where it had been argued have rejected it as being a disability.

     With respect to Ms. Manson’s failure to accommodate claim, the court noted that the ADA requires “[a]n employee who needs an accommodation . . . has the responsibility of informing [her] employer.”  Where the disability is not open, obvious, and apparent, “the initial burden rests primarily upon the employee . . . to specifically identify the disability and resulting limitations, and to suggest the reasonable accommodations.”  The court found that, although Ms. Manson alleged that she could be accommodated by limiting her interactions with members of the opposite sex, Ms. Manson did not state a claim for failure to accommodate because she failed to allege that she put Careington on notice of her need for an accommodation or that she requested any specific accommodations.

     The court’s decision in Manson is noteworthy mostly because of the practical reminders it provides.  First, courts have been consistent in refusing to recognize certain sexual behavior disorders as disabilities.  Beyond the statutory exclusion, in the case of an alleged “love/sex addiction,” it would seem difficult as a practical matter to accommodate such a condition if it were a disability.  In the case of Ms. Manson, limiting an employee from interacting with members of the opposite sex presumably would limit her from interacting with approximately half the workforce and numerous customers, which likely would impede her ability to perform the essential functions of her job.  Second, when employees have disabilities that require accommodations, the burden falls on the employee, at least initially, to put the employer on notice of the employee’s need for an accommodation and, in essence, initiate the interactive process.  It may be helpful to put this reminder in employee handbooks that include specific policies related to disability discrimination and accommodations for individuals with disabilities.