Disabled Worker Sues Disability Rights Group for – Discrimination

December 15, 2003 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - An advocate for the rights of the disabled has charged in a lawsuit that her former employer, a federally funded disability rights group, forced her to quit - by not accommodating her depression and other psychiatric problems.

According to plaintiff Dian Cox’s suit against Advocacy Inc. filed in US District Court in Austin, Texas, the group was guilty of “threatening and harassing behavior” toward her and an “utter failure” to accommodate the illness that forced her to leave the group in May 2000, according to a Texas Lawyer report. Advocacy denies the allegations.

Cox charged in her suit that in 1998, after a decade on Advocacy’s staff, her psychiatric illness caused her to take an extended leave from her job helping the mentally ill with their rights, self-advocacy skills and other training. She had been diagnosed as suffering from major depression, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

“This action by Advocacy Inc. illustrates the failure of this organization to protect its own employees with psychological disabilities from unfair employment practices and represents a failure of the group to carry out its own mission,” attorney Christopher McKinney, who represents Cox told the Texas Lawyer.

Time “Line”

Among the problems – Cox alleged that Advocacy set a rigid start time for her, even though the organization’s practice had been to allow flexibility in the work schedules of its professional employees. She alleges that requiring an exact time for them to arrive at work creates significant distress for persons with psychiatric illnesses because they experience difficulties in the morning due to their medication regimen and other factors.

Ultimately offered a choice between contract work (which would have had no health benefits) or a position as a part-time worker (which would have resulted in the loss of her Social Security Disability Income payments), Cox says that her employer’s actions amounted to a “constructive discharge.”

According to the report, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on August 22 issued a determination that there is “reasonable cause” that Cox was discriminated against because of her disability, in that she was not granted a reasonable accommodation in her arrival time. The commission also said in the determination, signed by Pedro Esquivel, EEOC district director in San Antonio, that Cox was constructively discharged.

Advocacy’s 2002 annual report shows that the bulk of the organization’s funding is provided by the federal government under the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act, the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals With Mental Illness Act and other federal statutes.