Employer Can't Fire Workers With Bipolar Disorder, Court Rules

bipolar court caseIn his time at Cottonwood Financial, Sean Reilly had overcome much. He had risen the company ranks from assistant to head store manager, and even won performance awards in spite of his bipolar disorder. Yet he claims that when he requested leave in 2007 to give him time to adjust to a new medication, he was fired.

A suit was filed on Reilly's behalf by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). It alleged employment discrimination under federal disability law, and on Thursday, the District Court for Eastern Washington ordered the financial services company to pay Reilly a total of $56,500 in damages. The finding is one several over the past decade in which a plaintiff diagnosed as bipolar emerged victorious in an employment discrimination lawsuit.

"This case was never about money or any sort of payback -- it was always about doing the right thing to help protect the rights of people with disabilities," Reilly said after the verdict, according to an EEOC news release.

In saying Cottonwood violated the 1990 Americans With Disability Act, the court awarded Reilly $6,500 in back wages and another $50,000 for emotional pain and suffering. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Edward F. Shea called out Reilly's perseverance in the face of his disorder. He was a high school honors student before attending college in Portland, Ore., and he began working for Cottonwood after leaving college to address his mental disorder.

According to the World Health Organization, bipolar disorder is the sixth leading cause of disability in the world, and many employees lose their jobs as a result of it. The ruling is being hailed by the EEOC as a landmark for Americans with bipolar disorder.

"Employers acting on outdated myths and fears about disabilities need to know that the EEOC will not shy away from taking ADA cases to trial to bring them into the 21st century," said William Tamayo, the EEOC's regional attorney in San Francisco.

Fired By Note, Posted On The Door

In its report, the EEOC celebrated the ruling as one of the first for lawsuits pertaining to bipolar disorder. But it wasn't without complete precedent. Back in 2003, the District Court for Western Oklahoma rejected a motion to dismiss a wrongful termination suit filed against commercial lighting distributor Voss Electric. The Lincoln, Neb.,-company had fired one of its employees right after doctors ordered the employee to undergo a period of inpatient treatment for bipolar disorder. The company had notified the patient of the termination by taping a sign on the employee's front door, the EEOC noted. The employee received $91,250 in the agreement.

The latest advance for Americans diagnosed with bipolar comes, in the Cottonwood case, just as the patent for the extended-release version of a leading medication for the disorder was granted protection through 2017. At that point, generic competition will be allowed to enter the market, The Street reported.

Corrections: An earlier version of this article stated that Reilly filed the lawsuit by himself, without help from the EEOC. It also said the EEOC had issued a report on the matter, and not just a news release.

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i also have bipolar,depression,anxiety, and 3 other personalties...if very depressing to me that i have to medications everyday just get me going and keep me safe from my own self....i telling you this because i know what other people like myelf are going through...,

November 12 2013 at 7:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Troy Alexander

Some employers will actually engage in collective harassment to attempt to cause a persons condition to worsen and will stop at nothing until they are ridden out the door

June 10 2013 at 3:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There are so many people suffering in different ways. We need to give them space and support. I lost my bipolar son when he committed suicide and left us. He had a brilliant mind and wrote a lot. I have finally shared his story and would like people to read and understand what goes in mind of a Bipolar. I failed to help him and now would share his story. Please feel free to comment on the post .

May 29 2012 at 8:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Tnx asdfasdf. It's interesting when others comment on topics they're clueless about. Obviously they have no compassion for those who have challenges different from them. This touches a nerve because their ignorance is shouting so loud I can't hear their intelligence. I want to help you all get educated, so go to the Mayo Clinic website & look up bi-polar disorder, it's a fascinating read and you may recognize someone you know, let's hope it's not you! 2ndly, if anyone thinks that a pill fixes everything you're funny, you should take anti-ignorant pills & get yourself cured 1st. Does it ever occur to people that no one wants this disorder any more than people with cancer want that? People will run, walk, and donate money to cure cancer, but will place blame & shame on people with mental disorders. I have rapid-cycling bi-polar disorder II. I am now 58 years old & was just diagnosed 3 years ago after having had a stroke 2 years before that. I believe my brother may have had bi-polar issues as well, but we'll never know for sure until we meet again. We both had strokes the same month, unfortunately he died 8 months later, he had leukemia brought on from years of marijuana use. I believe that he was self-medicating because he didn't know what else to do with himself, it's part of the disorder in many cases. We are so quick to judge others without knowing or caring about what underlying factors may exist. I judged my brothers drug use accusing him of being selfish & self-centered. Now I wonder if the problem was deeper & he handled it the only way he knew how. It's not an excuse for his doing it, but if he was bi-polar & an actual medication meant to treat the condition would have put him in a different frame of mind & perspective, it may have saved his life. I go to work everyday. I am overly responsible and will drag myself in unless liquid is uncontrollably spewing from my body. I also have been there 15 years. I can be elated one minute, talking a mile a minute, running around unable to focus or concentrate & the harder I try the more frustrating it can be. I can work circles around others when I'm in a manic phase, but I can also go to a depressed state in short order and want to commit suicide. It's a challenge to control, but with the help of friends & co-workers, they kindly tell me so I can reel myself back in; awareness helps a lot. It's not easy, I've had to become very vulnerable & transparent with others trusting they have my best interest at heart. You don't fault people for it, you help them overcome and live successfully with the challenge, everyone is different, there is no cookie cutter fix. Have some mercy & grace. If my boss would have discharged me (which she could have) after I had the stroke, I might have committed suicide, but she hung in there with me & watched me recover and is watching as I overcome this. Did I mention that I work as a manager in a fast-paced counseling center? Not easy folks, give us a break..

April 24 2012 at 3:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Dwayna's comment

WOW. Speaking of ignorance: Leukemia due to marijuana? The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society ENDORSE medical marijuana.

July 22 2012 at 4:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So you all would rather that everyone with bipolar disorder sit at home and get disability checks? From what I've read in the comments, you all say that

Also, please carefully read the article again. He was only asking for some time to adjust to a new medication. It usually only takes about two weeks. If it was lithium, he would have to have frequent blood tests. Sure, he could have gone to work. But the side effects are very intense.

It also says that he was extremely well performing. He didn't ask for time off all the time, he wasn't constantly missing work, and he WON PERFORMANCE AWARDS. He was an outstanding employee.

I sincerely hope none of you ever have to experience bipolar disorder. You, your significant other, your children, friends, or anyone else. It's an extremely difficult thing to deal with. You all make me sick with your lack of understanding.

April 08 2012 at 12:04 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Whatever happened to taking personal responsibility for your own condition and limitations?

April 04 2012 at 12:54 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

I've got lack of winning the lottery syndrone so I should be awarded!

April 04 2012 at 8:44 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to ghelm92160's comment

Following the example set by Reilly, you should sue the Lottery Commission.

April 04 2012 at 12:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You have no idea what it is like to struggle with mental illness.

Go piss up a flagpole.

April 23 2012 at 9:07 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

hey "whad up girl" - i know what ISN'T up with you - your IQ. i hope you remember your comments if you or anyone in the family faces the same situation. that would only be fair.

April 04 2012 at 2:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

sad when people dont get help for this disorder they create chaos in peoples lives but here was a person who went for help and was then treated like this? glad they supported and upheld this persons right to keep his job.

April 04 2012 at 1:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Whad Up Girl!

What's next, you'll apply to be a brain surgeon, then sue because you didn't get the job. Bottom line, if you can't do the work, you'll get fired. Do you think it's fair to work in an office, then call is sick 3 days a week and the staff is suppose to "just cover for you".

Nope, your ass is fired. Take meds, get a grip, but don't think you can get a job, screw up constantly, flip out and the rest of us have to accept it. NOT!

April 04 2012 at 1:01 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

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