Fired Bipolar Employee Wins ADA Suit

March 19, 2003 ( - A Nebraska lighting company, which fired a bipolar employee by taping a note to the front door of his home, has settled a federal discrimination lawsuit.

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said Lincoln, Nebraska-based Voss Electric Company agreed to pay the unnamed worker $91,250 as part of the out-of-court settlement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) suit.

In its lawsuit in the US District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City, the EEOC charged that Voss violated the ADA by firing the long-time employee who the agency said needed in-patient care for his psychiatric disorder. Rather than give the employee enough time off to obtain the treatment as recommended by his doctors, Voss fired him, the EEOC said in the suit.

The EEOC settlement agreement with Voss came after the company had been rebuffed in its efforts to get the agency’s case thrown out when a federal judge ruled that the EEOC’s claims should go before a jury.

The judge ruled that the EEOC had submitted evidence that the former employee’s mental illness, at the time of his firing, severely impaired a number of his major life activities, including thinking, interacting with others, communicating with others, and the ability to take care of himself.   Voss then argued that, at the time of his termination, the former employee was unable to perform the essential functions of his job.

The judge, however, ruled that a jury should determine whether the employee was entitled to a reasonable medical leave to enable him to recover sufficiently to return to his former position. The settlement soon followed.

The agreement also provides that Voss will furnish ADA training for all of its employees and post ADA notices at all its locations.

“Mentally disabled employees are protected under the ADA just as those who are physically disabled,” Sidney Chesnin, lead trial counsel for the EEOC, said in the announcement. “Disabled employees are entitled to consideration of a reasonable accommodation for their disability. By simply giving a worker a reasonable period of leave to adjust to a medical condition related to a disability, the employer can often pave the way for the return of a productive employee.”