It’s rare that you see ADHD covered in Bloomberg News, but I guess a multi-million dollar discrimination lawsuit will do it. After a former Goldman Sachs analyst sued the firm for “several million pounds in loss of future earnings,” the parties reached a settlement this week.
I hadn’t heard about this lawsuit when news of it first broke. If you hadn’t either, here are the basics. Kwasi Afrifa, a former Goldman analyst in London, says that his ex-employer discriminated against him for his ADHD symptoms and refused to take appropriate steps to accommodate those symptoms.
Goldman, predictably, says that’s not true and Afrifra was just a bad employee. Afrifra resigned in 2018, but Goldman claims he would have been fired by 2019 anyway.
Now, I don’t know the details of the situation, and I’m certainly not an expert in UK discrimination law. But based on the limited information that’s available in news articles, there are a couple aspects of this lawsuit that seem interesting.
First, Afrifra says the bank made a “stubborn refusal” to implement measures that would support him in regard to his ADHD symptoms.
According to the initial Bloomberg article on the story, after Afrifra’s managers reprimanded him for inattention and time management issues, he “suggested using annotation and note-taking tools to manage information and transcription,” ideas that were rejected out of hand by his managers.
On this point, the bank’s defense seems telling. Goldman’s attorney didn’t deny that these suggested accommodations were rejected, but simply wrote that “It is not a duty to run experiments.”
Sadly, this hostility toward even simple measures that might accommodate employees’ ADHD symptoms rings true. It’s as if some employers dismiss the idea of taking even easy steps to support people with ADHD purely “out of principle,” not because those steps would be burdensome to implement.
That’s a natural result of ADHD stigma. If you don’t really understand ADHD and you’ve heard that it’s a “made-up” condition used as an “excuse,” then as a manager you might end up obstinately refusing to allow for flexibility in workplace protocols that actually stands to benefit both you and your employees a great deal.
The ideal solution, of course, is for people in managerial positions to develop a solid understanding of what ADHD is and what can be done to support ADHDers at work. Failing that, though, this lawsuit has an important takeaway for employers: even if you think ADHD is being used as an “excuse,” it’s not worth it to refuse to provide accommodations “out of principle.”
In other words, while Goldman’s attorneys may feel the company isn’t obligated to “run experiments,” it’s really in most companies’ best interests to be open to “experimenting” with accommodations for mental health conditions. Partly because you might be surprised to find a new way of doing things that works better, but at the very least because discriminating against people with ADHD can get you sued.
Which brings me to something I like about this story. We don’t know all the details of the situation, and we don’t how much the parties settled for, but we do know that an ADHD discrimination lawsuit was apparently enough of an inconvenience for a gargantuan investment bank that the bank did have to reach some kind of settlement. Not to mention that, thanks to the news articles this lawsuit produced, there are probably some talented ADHDers with finance degrees out there who are going to think twice about whether Goldman is the right place to seek employment.
All of which is to say, there are apparently some costs to refusing workplace accommodations to people with ADHD. And that’s exactly how it should be. Our ultimate goal is to build more awareness and understanding around ADHD. But as a secondary goal, as long as that understanding of ADHD is incomplete, it’s helpful to establish a more basic kind of understanding: the understanding that discriminating against employees with ADHD can have consequences!
Image: Flickr/Wally Gobetz