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Did NPR 'Psychiatrist' Remark about Juan Williams Violate the Americans with Disabilities Act? NAMI Asks NPR to Take Action to Protect Against Hostile Work Environment

October 28, 2010

Arlington, Va.-- The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has warned National Public Radio (NPR) that a remark made by NPR's CEO in the firing of senior correspondent Juan Williams may violate the letter or spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In this week's NAMI Blog, NAMI Executive Director Michael Fitzpatrick shares the text of a letter sent to NPR president and CEO Vivian Schiller, calling on NPR to adopt a plan no later than its board meeting scheduled in November to "educate and reassure" managers and employees about ADA protections in the workplace for people with mental health concerns.

After firing Williams for talking about Muslims during a Fox TV News program, Schiller told news media that Williams' personal feelings should have been kept between himself and his "psychiatrist or publicist — take your pick." Williams responded that he did not have a psychiatrist.

Schiller later apologized  for the "thoughtless remark," but NAMI called it an "outrageous" statement.

"NAMI remains greatly concerned about the cruel signal the incident has sent to millions of Americans — and its chilling effect both on people seeking help for mental health concerns and their expectation of privacy and support in employment relationships," said Fitzpatrick.

NAMI warned Schiller the remark "may violate the letter and/or spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — risking creation of a hostile work environment, flowing from the top down through NPR and its affiliates for any employee who lives with mental illness."

In the NAMI Blog, Fitzpatrick further noted: "Once again, someone has played 'the stigma card,' suggesting mental illness to discredit a person rather than debating issues on their merits."

Fitzpatrick told Schiller the remark was "sadly inconsistent with NPR's own stellar record of reporting fairly, accurately and compassionately on issues related to mental illness."

The NAMI letter to Schiller was copied to NPR's Vice-President for Legal Affairs and General Counsel, Joyce Slocum.

About NAMI

NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness. NAMI has over 1100 state and local affiliates that engage in research, education, support and advocacy.

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