Terminated Employee with Bipolar Disorder Awarded $315,000 in ADA Case

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http://www.jdsupra.com/post/documentViewer.aspx?fid=dff1b455-3ee5-4880-a2f2-11a95909b932

Employers must be mindful that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to a wide range of both physical and mental conditions, as a March 29 decision from a Washington federal court makes clear. The case is one of the first disability discrimination lawsuits taken to trial concerning bipolar disorder.

The plaintiff in the case, a store manager of a payday lender, alleged that he was fired because of his disability, bipolar disorder. The judge held that the employer’s reasons for terminating the plaintiff were a pretext for discrimination, and that the employer had in fact fired him because it regarded him as too disabled to work.

The evidence showed that the employer denied the plaintiff’s request for a short medical leave to adjust to new medication prescribed by his doctor to treat his condition. The employer fired him just days after his need for sick leave first arose.

Following a four-day bench trial, the judge awarded the plaintiff $6,500 in back wages and $50,000 for emotional pain and suffering, as well as $258,018.94 for attorney fees and costs.

The case serves as an important reminder to employers that coverage under the ADA includes relatively common mental health conditions. According to the National Mental Health Association, over 2.3 million Americans suffer from bipolar disorder.

The case is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Cottonwood Financial Ltd., 2:09-cv-05073, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington.

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17 thoughts on “Terminated Employee with Bipolar Disorder Awarded $315,000 in ADA Case

    ...But She's Crazy said:
    March 30, 2012 at 7:39 PM

    This is good news to hear. I’ve had employees who certainly suspected my bipolar diagnosis and treated me accordingly. Had I not had a “protected” position from which it would’ve been difficult to have me fired, I surely would’ve been at the mercy of an unsympathetic boss. More employers need to understand mental illnesses, many of which are rooted in physical, chemical causes, are disabilities just like any physical illness that is protected in the workplace. I hope this helps toward setting a precedent.

      ManicMuses responded:
      March 30, 2012 at 7:44 PM

      Me, too. I never, ever told any employer about my Bipolar. Maybe in 10 years time I won’t have to worry about it anymore.

    boldkevin said:
    March 30, 2012 at 7:40 PM

    I am so encouraged that mental illness has been recognized in this way but you still have to wonder sometimes at how the world is,

    I can’t get over the awards given…
    Plaintiff gets: $56,500
    Legal costs: $258,018.94

    And they say we are the one’s whose mind aren’t working right.

      ManicMuses responded:
      March 30, 2012 at 7:42 PM

      :) Yeah, I saw how much the sharks were making off of this and almost choked on my drink. But, at this point I’m sure we’ll agree. A win is a win! I’ll take it! Hope you’re doing well.

      DeeDee said:
      March 30, 2012 at 8:52 PM

      I suspect it required high-priced lawyers to get this case to court, much less with a favorable decision. Unfortunately most people can’t even retain a lawyer of that caliber.

    DeeDee said:
    March 30, 2012 at 8:54 PM

    Part of the challenge is that with at-will employment, they don’t need much reason to fire someone. So it’s really hard to pin a termination on disclosure of mental illness, as they can just say you’re not competent, and because of the general lack of knowledge and stigma around mental illness, people will believe it.

      ManicMuses responded:
      April 1, 2012 at 11:06 AM

      Yeah, you’re absolutely right. Makes me wonder what the particulars of this case are. Somebody must have said something very pointed and extremely derogatory to the defendant. Really blatant. It would be interesting to find out but I doubt we ever will.

    Ruby Tuesday said:
    April 1, 2012 at 12:14 PM

    I realize that this is not at all the point, but all that I can think is, ‘The plaintiff got $56,500, and the attorneys etc. topped out at $258,018.94?

    To me there is something so incredibly amiss in that.

      ManicMuses responded:
      April 2, 2012 at 11:07 AM

      Yeah, it’s disgusting, isn’t it! The amount of the award to the attorneys actually overshadows the coup for mental illness. Humph.

    Candida Abrahamson PhD said:
    April 17, 2012 at 4:18 PM

    You find such timely, applicable, intriguing news pieces that it’s a pleasure to catch up with your blog.

    [...] Terminated Employee with Bipolar Disorder Awarded $315,000 in ADA Case (manicmuses.wordpress.com) [...]

    T said:
    July 3, 2012 at 4:33 AM

    What you guys fail to realize is that the employer could have settled the case but chose not to. Additionally, under the ADA, the prevailing party is awarded their attorney’s fees. At the end of the trial, the attorneys simply submitted their application for attorney’s fees and their hourly rate. You guys should be upset at the corporate defense lawyers who were trying to take your rights away, not the lawyers fighting for your rights.

      ManicMuses responded:
      July 3, 2012 at 2:03 PM

      Hi, T. You’re absolutely correct – this never should have gone to trial in the first place. And, we should be upset at the corporate defense lawyers. It speaks volumes that not one of us pointed that out. Being Bipolar and having to put up with all of the stigma that implies, I (and many others) have come to expect that having our rights compromised or taken away is just another day in the mines. Thanks for pointing out the limits in our vision. It just goes to show that we BPs also have a lot to get over where our own stigma limits our sense of fair play so we can see situations like this in a broader sense.

    Laura P. Schulman, M.D., M.A., FAAP said:
    July 24, 2012 at 11:36 PM

    One of my colleagues killed himself because he got into a bipolar depression and he was afraid to disclose to the management due to fear that they would terminate him (he was a pediatrician. I will be writing a post about him soon.) He waited too long, got delusional, and we lost him. The more legal cases that are won on our side, the better for all of us. Yes, the legal sharks profit off off of our misfortunes, just like the ambulance chasers, but in the end it will profit us because the employers won’t dare act against us, or create a corporate culture that promotes stigma and discrimination. Thanks so much for posting this article!

    DSP said:
    April 27, 2013 at 6:59 PM

    does this pertain to those working in the private sector (catholic school)?

      ManicMuses responded:
      May 1, 2013 at 2:17 PM

      I assume so, since these are Federal laws. If you check with an attorney and wouldn’t mind sharing, pls feel free to post back here. THanks!

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