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!

3 thoughts on “Woman with Bipolar Disorder Wins Court Case

  1. […] was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder a couple of years ago but, they say it’s been around for awhile and just wasn’t being […]

  2. […] alternating with hypomania.  I know that is true – and that the diagnosis must fit some people. Bipolar I, on the other hand, is defined as cyclical periods of depression, alternating with manic […]

  3. I lost my job in 1989 as a respiratory therapist at Newton Wellesley hospital after a psychotic brake and was told I missed disability by 2 days and I could not come back to work until I got off my medication. I could go in to more discrimination but I have to go. My book “Madness Broke The Rose” was a dream of mine to be stable enough to right my life story.

    Contact: Susan Rose FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    Telephone: Home # 413 663-3431 February 26, 2015
    Email: roseart48@gmail.com
    The lifelong struggle of Susan Rose is chronicle in her initial work, Madness Broke The Rose.
    It is now available in select bookstores and online.

    Susan Rose, of North Adams, Massachusetts is proud to offer her initial work of prose, Madness Broke The Rose, already available in select bookstores as well as on Amazon.com.

    Madness Broke The Rose is a bristling chronicle of Susan’s lifelong and life-threatening struggle with bipolar disorder. As harrowing as her free-fall into insanity was, her courage and willingness to transform brings the reader through her nightmare to a place of healing. Susan has learned how to manage the extremes which once dominated her life.

    “I wanted to share my story with the world,” Susan reflects. “There are so many people living with this debilitating illness, and it is so important that they discover they are not alone. I have given what I hope is an inspiring and unvarnished accounting of my struggle with – and triumph over – bipolar disorder.”

    Her honesty is tempered throughout by a liberating humor, giving the reader space to breathe before diving back in. In addition to her own illness, she was coping (or not coping) with the fact that each of her four sons have also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

    A successful visual artist, the book cover is a self-portrait in charcoal and lipstick. Several images of hers appear throughout the book, signifying dimensions of her story which are beyond language.

    The book should be required reading for any mental health student and professional. It can also be an invaluable tool for anyone who struggles with mental illness, as well as their friends and family. It’s honesty, breadth and triumphant message can serve as a beacon for those who feel they may be losing control of their lives. For more information, please contact Susan Rose at the phone and email above.

    Preview of art and some photos’ in Madness Broke The Rose.

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