NC Trucking Co. Slapped with Discrimination Charges

September 23, 2009 ( - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has hit a North Carolina trucking company with a lawsuit over allegations it illegally discriminated against workers with mental illness.

A National Law Journal news report said the federal court suit chargedthat the Smith International Truck Center relied upon “myths, fears and stereotypes about mental impairments” when it unlawfully terminated an employee who took leave for a mental health issue.

According to the suit, employee Stephen Kerns took one week off to get medical treatment and get his dosage adjusted for medicine he took for what the complaint calls a mental impairment. The man then returned to work with no restrictions, but was fired shortly thereafter, according to the EEOC.

The agency asserts that his employer fired Kerns because of his perceived disability – in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) — and that the issue is a pervasive workplace problem around the country.

“There’s just a lot of stigma about mental illness,” said Carol Miaskoff , EEOC assistant legal counsel. “‘Getting employers to slow down and not jump to these negative conclusions is not easy.”

Attorney Steven Lawrence, who is representing the trucking company, adamantly denied the claims. “This is absurd,” Lawrence said of the lawsuit. “When the allegation states that Smith International perceived him as disabled, that is just out and out untrue. He was not disabled. He had not been determined to be disabled.”

According to Lawrence, the employee was fired because he repeatedly didn’t show up for work without any notice. The employee had been warned several times, Lawrence told the Law Journal . “It was that simple.”