Fired For Having A Brain Tumor Or A Seizure, Or Mocked For Being Disabled – Why Does This Happen?

Human nature is sometimes an inscrutable thing.

Why do some people – adults! – find it necessary to harass those with disabilities?

Is it simple bullying?

Or maybe a fear-based projection or displacement or some other defense mechanism?

And why treat adversely – like firing – someone who comes forward and says he has a disability?

True concern or belief that she can’t do the job?

Or is it based on outdated and harmful myths and stereotypes  and fears of being around someone with a disabling condition?

Or can all or some of the above be explained by just plain stupidity and unfamiliarity with the anti-discrimination and harassment laws?

Today, we fill focus on the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”), since the EEOC has been zeroing in on employers who violate it, as illustrated by each of the cases described below.

Your task today is to figure out why these cases happened in the first place.

In the first case, a Pacific Northwest auto dealer has agreed to settle an ADA case brought by the EEOC by paying $125,000 for firing a sales consultant – on the spot! – who informed his manager that an MRI revealed that he had a brain tumor.

What do you think caused the manager to fire this guy?  And so quickly?  I guess it was better than driving a stake through his heart…

In the second case, a Colorado company was alleged to have fired an office assistant four days after she suffered a seizure at work. The company failed to engage in the required “interactive process to discuss potential accommodations” – and now must pay $42,500.

As an EEOC Regional Attorney said:

“Far too often, people with seizure disorders are denied employment opportunities because of myths and fears about their condition. As this case shows, employment decisions should not be driven by stereotypes and fears about people with epilepsy.”

I guess the EEOC may have answered the question as to “why” in this case – myths and fears and … very ancient stereotypes.

How about the Michigan egg producer which was sued by the EEOC for subjecting a worker to a hostile work environment because of her disability.  She:

“experienced frequent mocking by her supervisor and coworkers about her disability-related symptoms. … retaliated against [her] for complaining about it, and constructively discharged her through escalating harassment, which included her supervisor’s following her into a bathroom and initiating a confrontation with the disabled employee on her last day at work.”

The company agreed to settle for $93,000.

Why this horrible treatment?   Was this like stopping witchcraft, intended among other things, to banish the “afflicted one” from the community in order to “purify” it?

Or take the national retailer located in West Virginia who is paying $100,000 to settle the EEOC suit which alleges that “a retail worker with hearing and speech disabilities was subjected to harassment by her co-workers …. A number of store employees often mocked the worker’s hearing disability and manner of speech, frequently using derogatory and highly offensive terms.”

The EEOC claimed that:

“Management officials were aware of the harassment but failed to take appropriate action … refused to promote the employee because of her disabilities and in retaliation for reporting the harassment,” and even “subjected a non-disabled department manager to discrimination because of her association with the harassment victim and in retaliation for her efforts to protect her co-worker from harassment.”

Can someone explain to me why this behavior took place? Why are some people so … well, oblivious to what is decent, respectful – and lawful! – behavior?

Or take the cabinet manufacturer which settled an EEOC ADA suit for $25,000 – for allegedly firing an employee who requested two days leave (unpaid!) “to visit a doctor … for purposes of treatment and recovery relating to her disabilities.”

Although a 16-year veteran employee, she was “assessed attendance infraction points …under [the company’s] rigid attendance policy,” and was fired “for exceed¬ing the permissible number of attendance points, despite her providing a doctor’s note and updated Family Medical Leave Act forms. …”

Rigid sick leave policies which are not tailored to an employee’s medical condition are prohibited by the ADA – so why did this company have such a policy, and why did they not even try to make the “reasonable accommodation” to this employee?

Who knows?

Finally (for today), there’s the Florida assisted living facility (!) which was just sued by the EEOC for “rescinding a woman’s job offer upon learning she was pregnant.” I saved this one for last not because it is a Title VII “Pregnancy Discrimination Act” case, and not an ADA case, but because – most of you know the drill by now – it involves medical or health providers allegedly discriminating against those who are pregnant or have disabilities.

Let’s hear it: it’s “like shooting fish in a barrel” for the EEOC, or picking “low hanging fruit.”


You, readers, have your job cut out for you:


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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]