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ADA Blog #102

A man, diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (mood disorder affecting about 5.7 million Americans and, according to the World Health Organization, the sixth- leading cause of disability worldwide) was hired as an assistant manager at Cottonwood Financial, which owns and operates Payday Lending stores in over a half-dozen states.

Although not legally required to disclose his hidden disability, he decided to tell his boss about his condition because he thought it would be safer to let them know in case he had to leave early to see a doctor. The company said they didn't have a problem with it. He thrived in his job, won an achievement award and was promoted to store manager.

As time went on, symptoms of his disability increased and he eventually had a breakdown. He had never missed a day of work and for the first time, called in sick. His boss told him there was no one to cover the store and he had to come in. He reluctantly did so, but requested a two-week leave. His request was denied and he was subsequently was fired.

Devastated, he filed a lawsuit with the EEOC and won. The question is, “Why was he fired?

EEOC argued that the company violated the ADA and the state’s own discrimination law (Washington Law Against Discrimination-- WLAD), both of which prohibit firing an employee due to disability and prohibit adverse employment decisions motivated, even in part, by ill will toward an employee's real or perceived disability or request for an accommodation.

This is the 1st case taken to trial by the EEOC involving someone who is bipolar. After a four-day trial, the Judge found that the company's half-dozen different rationales for terminating this employee were simply a pretext for discrimination and awarded the employee $6,500 in back wages and $50,000 for emotional pain and suffering. The court also issued a three-year injunction, requiring The Cash Store to train its managers and human resources personnel on anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws.

The judge concluded that the company was motivated by a bias against people with this kind of disability after the employee had disclosed that he was bipolar, and they illegally fired him because they regarded and perceived him as disabled and unable to do his job, when the actual facts were that he had been performing his job to the standards set by the company.

The greatest barrier to employment for people with mental disabilities, such as Bipolar Disorder, are employers’ myths and fears about their condition, not the disabilities themselves. Employers really have to be really careful, especially when they don’t have solid reasons for terminating a long-term employee who is doing a good job. In the case above, the employee was successful in his job and didn’t need any type of workplace support (reasonable accommodation). The company couldn’t provide any justification (such as poor performance, despite the provision of workplace supports) for making such an adverse employment decision (termination).

Springboard conducts training for company managers and human resources personnel on anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws. If you would like to discuss such a program that is tailored to the needs of your company, contact Springboard.

Shelley

This information should not be construed as “legal advice” for a particular set of facts or circumstances. It is intended only to be a practical guide for participants familiar with this subject. Users should seek appropriate legal advice tailored to address their specific situation.