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Woman with Bipolar Disorder Wins Court Case

Future discrimination of people with Bipolar Disorder may be more difficult

Score one (kind of) for Bipolar Disorder.  A federal jury awarded a woman who was fired because she requested time off from work to deal with a manic episode $32.5 thousand.

Bipolar Disorder StigmatizationBipolar disorder (and many other psychiatric illnesses) carries a relatively big stigma in the workplace.  Unless you are in the creative arts, likely, you will not want anyone at your job to know that you have bipolar disorder.

Three years ago, a nursing assistant who worked in an assisted living facility, named Charlotte Massey realized she was in the middle of a manic episode.  Charlotte had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder – and kudos to her for recognizing that she needed to do something about it before it spiraled out of control.

When she called her boss, the owner of the facility, her boss not only didn’t give her “kudos”, he gave her a pink slip.  She got fired because she asked to take a leave of absence to deal with her medical issue.

Unlike most people who have been fired for Bipolar Disorder – Charlotte didn’t lose her job because she went wacko.  Instead, she maintained enough mental clarity to notify her employer of her Bipolar Disorder Discriminationdisability and was rewarded with… firing.

It is certain that the owner of the facility was aware of the American with Disabilities Act.  It is likely that he or she was aware that he could not randomly fire employees with physical or obvious mental disabilities. But, it may be that he was unaware that “mental disabilities” includes illnesses such as bipolar disorder.

The ADA bars discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities who can perform the essential functions of their job with “reasonable accommodation” and without imposing an “undue hardship” on the employer.

From the outside, some may say… well she wanted to take time off.  In fact, she took a whole five days off, with herself or a family member reporting in each day with the supervisor.  When she returned to work after only a week of absence, she was fired.

Part of the law includes an evaluation of whether the employer would be subjected to “undue hardship”.  Is giving an employee time off to deal with a medical issue, an employee whose shifts could be made up by another person – an undue hardship?

Workplace StigmaThe court thought it was not.  The jury awarded Massey $25,000 in damages for lost wages and benefits and $7,500 in punitive damages.

The employer and his lawyer attempted to have the lawsuit dismissed by claiming that:

•    Charlotte Massey wasn’t fired; she resigned
•    She had a faulty memory of the events due to her disability
•    She never reported her disability to her employer

In fact, none of those were true.  Though the employer’s attorney repeatedly referred to the case as “frivolous”, the jury found otherwise.
This award may be the first of its kind, and it may be small, but it is a groundbreaking case.  With the ability to claim protections of the ADA, future discrimination may be more difficult.

Melissa Lind

More difficult for Bipolar Disorder stigma in the future!

Bipolar II – Really?

Is it Bipolar II – or just plain Bipolar Disorder not yet recognized?

Google “Bipolar” on the “news” tab and see what you find.  It is astounding how many semi-celebrities have come out and said “I have Bipolar Disorder”.  Unfortunately, the story is often about Bipolar II, which somehow makes it “better”.

Bipolar Disorder is still a serious stigma – prevents people from getting jobs and such.  Technically, as Bipolar Disorder is considered a disability, an employer who did not hire or fired an admitted bipolar patient based only on that fact would be in violation of the American Disabilities Act, but few people are willing to go to the carpet on that.  Plus there is the little issue of being “able” to perform one’s job.  I can perform a job if I am taking meds.  If I am off of meds, I become highly unreliable with a lot of other liabilities – risky behavior that I have decided not to discuss.

Only a couple of years ago, I was warned by a well-meaning family member against posting too much on social media about Bipolar Disorder – and this in his mind included “liking” too many Bipolar pages.  He was concerned about my ability to obtain a decent job.  I don’t know if I have a “decent “job today – I have made my own way which works out better for me – no boss to annoy, no dress code, nobody else’s time clock.  For the most part, I don’t worry about social media – I don’t think I will ever have a “real” job again – no more frequent flyer miles for me.

Bipolar 2I was once diagnosed as Bipolar II – but really, both the doctor and the therapist thought differently – they both knew that I had regular Bipolar Disorder but wasn’t ready to accept it.  Actually, I am pretty sure my doctor tricked me into taking Lithium for the first time by telling me that it would help boost my antidepressant activity.

In retrospect, I am astounded that I believed him since I know so much about medication – but I took the medication.  How many of these people really have Bipolar I Disorder and just don’t say so.

It is much easier for people to say and accept that they have Bipolar II.  In my opinion (which is obviously vast and knowledgeable – just kidding, no really), Bipolar II is a way of sliding by the real diagnosis.  As in “I have Bipolar Disorder but not really”.  “I have Bipolar Disorder but I am not crazy”.  “I have Bipolar Disorder but I am not dangerous”.  “I have Bipolar Disorder but I won’t embarrass you”.
When it gets down to it…wasn’t that true for all of us at one time?  Or at least didn’t we believe it at one time?  I still fit some of the criteria – I am “functional”, “productive”, “hypomanic” – except when I am not.

I often confuse my doctor when he asks how it is going by saying “good enough”.  What I mean is that I am not manic exactly, I am not depressed.  Actually it works better for me if I am teetering on the edge of mania.  If I am just crazy enough that I know that I am crazy – then I will keep taking my meds.  Because I forget.

I originally sought treatment for severe depressiondepression bad enough that I had to decide whether to kill myself or study (I had a big exam the next day).  In retrospect, I was actually in a mixed episode with plenty of energy but in a really bad mood.  Oh, and then there was the slight issue of the hypnogogic hallucinations which I denied at the time.  See, even if I know that I have Bipolar DisorderManic Depression – I still forget.

It would be easier for me to say that I have Bipolar Disorder but it is “just” Bipolar II.  I thought that too.

Melissa