When Marianne Locher accepted a legal secretary position with Katten Muchin and Zavis (now Katten Muchin Zavis Rosenman) in 1992, she didn't tell her new employer she suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome. Although two years earlier a doctor had diagnosed her with the disease, which causes muscle pain and fatigue, Locher feared the law firm wouldn't hire her if she disclosed her illness.
But after 13 months on the job, Locher's symptoms worsened, and she began missing work. When she finally told her employer about the illness, the firm agreed to allow Locher to reduce her hours--on the condition she provide documentation from her doctor confirming the diagnosis.
The decision gives judges more discretion in deciding which evidence to allow in cases involving denial of disability benefits claims, a move that will generally favor insurers.
"I think it's a sign that [the court] approves of the system that currently exists for the review of disability claims by insurance companies," says Craig Martin, a partner at Jenner & Block in Chicago who specializes in ERISA litigation.
"This will have a broader impact than just the health care field," he says.