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‘Chronic Stress’ at Williams & Connolly No Basis for Benefits

July 8, 2021, 6:12 PM

A former Williams & Connolly LLP employee who sought disability benefits based on the “chronic stress” she experienced working at the law firm lost her appeal against Unum Life Insurance Co., according to a Sixth Circuit ruling issued Thursday.

Unum reasonably determined that Lisa Holden’s alleged inability to perform her accounting job was specific to her situation at Williams & Connolly and didn’t prevent her from working elsewhere, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit said. According to Holden’s own reports, her symptoms stemmed from the firm’s “low head count in accounting and resulting excessive hours and workload,” along with colleague issues she described as “bullying, abuse, and harassment,” the court said.

“Indeed, nearly every report from Holden’s treating physicians is centered around Holden’s work; there is no indication that Holden’s purported disability was caused by, exacerbated by, or related to anything other than Williams & Connolly,” the court said.

Judge Bernice Bouie Donald wrote the unpublished opinion, which was joined by Judge Julia Smith Gibbons. Senior Judge Deborah L. Cook filed a concurrence, saying the lengthy majority opinion examined Unum’s conduct more closely than necessary given the deferential standard of judicial review applicable to the company’s decision-making.

Holden began working for Williams & Connolly in 1997, attaining the role of deputy finance director. She left the firm in 2015 after telling doctors she felt “sick and anxiety-ridden” over her work situation, which allegedly included excessive hours, altercations with colleagues, bullying, harassment, and alienation from others.

Holden also filed suit against Williams & Connolly in 2019, claiming violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. She dropped that case in April, saying she “wants to get on with her life.”

Robert Wilson of Chattanooga, Tenn., represents Holden in her case against Unum. Miller & Martin represents Unum.

The case is Holden v. Unum Life Ins. Co., 6th Cir., No. 20-6318, unpublished 7/8/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacklyn Wille in Washington at jwille@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com

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