Epileptic Worker Sues: Says Bosses Called His Seizure 'Break Dancing,' Then Fired Him
A janitor with epilepsy is suing his former employer in Mississippi for violating federal law after he was fired for having an epileptic seizure while working, according to a lawsuit filed earlier this week in federal court.
Michael A. Hernandez was working for Harrison County as a floor technician in July 2009 when he had an epileptic seizure at a county run retirement home. Following treatment at local hospital, Hernandez returned to work the next day only to be fired, say the documents, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.
The dismissal was in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against workers because of a disability or a perceived disability, the lawsuit says.
The suit further states that Hernandez was derided after the episode by a supervisor who jokingly referred to his involuntary convulsions as "break dancing."
"He [is] an epileptic and he had a seizure while at work," Hernandez's attorney, Louis H. Watson, told AOL Jobs.
"They kind of ridiculed him and made fun of him and said he was 'break dancing,' " Watson said. "That's hard to believe but that's what they did ... and then they fired him."
Unlike some epileptics, Hernandez can't sense that a seizure is about to occur. "In my case, I never know it's coming, I just fall out," he said. "It's like a fish out of water, I'm told."
Speaking by phone from Hawaii where he now lives, Hernandez, who has been doing janitorial work since he was 12, said that he was hired because of his experience and that the hiring manager was aware of his epilepsy.
On the day that he was fired, Hernandez was called into a supervisor's office and was told "things just aren't working out," he said.
"[But] I knew it was because of the seizure."
The county's attorney, Tim Holleman, said that Hernandez's claims are baseless and that the county intends to vigorously fight the lawsuit.
Hernandez, who was hired in April 2009, was still within the six-month probationary period granted to all newly hired employees to determine if they are suitable for continued employment, Holleman told AOL Jobs.
"He had not been a productive employee. He had problems with some other folks," Holleman said.
Hernandez was hired with knowledge that he was an epileptic, Holleman said. "If we were going to discriminate [against him], we wouldn't have hired him."
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David Schepp has spent more than a dozen years covering business news for the electronic and print media, including Dow Jones Newswires, BBC News, Gannett Co., and most recently at AOL's DailyFinance. Nearly 10 years ago, he started writing a weekly People@Work column, looking in depth at issues facing workers in today's workplace. The syndicated column appeared in newspapers and websites nationwide before it made its debut on DailyFinance in 2010. Schepp now continues that tradition at Aol Jobs, covering the jobs beat and providing readers insight and analysis into the nation's challenging employment scene.
Schepp holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Metropolitan State College of Denver.
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