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Worker’s stress-related mental disorder claim denied


The Oregon Court of Appeals last week affirmed a ruling that a mental disorder claim by a worker alleging emotional and psychological abuse was not compensable.

In April 2017, Audrey King, a software validation engineer at UST Global, and 40 other employees were assigned to work on a project described as “fast-paced, hectic, chaotic, and stressful,” according to documents in In the Matter of the Compensation of Audrey J. King, filed in the Oregon Court of Appeals in Salem.

Ms. King and her supervisor, identified as “Dash,” began to have difficulties shortly after they began working together on the project, Ms. King testified, saying she began experiencing symptoms of a mental disorder by mid-May of 2017.

Ms. King began seeing a clinical psychologist the following month due to what she described as "an extremely high-stress work situation" and symptoms including hair loss and an inability to sleep, documents state. The clinical psychologist determined Ms. King was suffering from an "adjustment disorder with anxiety" due to a "hostile and abnormal work environment.”

Ms. King was laid off Aug. 25, 2017, due to a staff reduction. Three days later, she filed a workers compensation claim that was rejected by an administrative law judge and the state Workers Compensation Board.

On appeal, Ms. King submitted the psychologist’s opinion that her "hostile and abnormal work environment" was the cause of her mental disorder, citing causative factors including the lack of appropriate workspace, changing and inconsistent direction from management, Dash's apparent attempts to undermine Ms. King and instances of the supervisor’s berating her. Several coworkers testified that Dash did not respect or treat Ms. King well.

A second psychologist also diagnosed Ms. King with an adjustment disorder with anxiety but offered the opinion that if the first psychologist overlooked her prescription medication for weight loss, that would have negatively affected the ability to assess the extent to which her weight loss was attributable to stress from work. The second psychologist further attributed a greater portion of Ms. King’s distress to “a tendency to react strongly to conflict and stress.”

The Court of Appeals ruled Dec. 1 that the administrative law judge and the Workers Compensation Board correctly found the claim lacked appropriate proof of medical causation.