Example of a case we handled involving discrimination against a client who had ongoing problems due to a traumatic brain injury.
Both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Maine Human Rights Act prohibit employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of a disability or perceived disability. These laws forbid discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment. Discrimination can take the form of offensive remarks about a person’s disability, stereotyping, harassment, unwarranted discipline, less favorable work assignments, refusal to provide reasonable accommodations. It can be subtle or it can be blatant.
Maine Employee Rights Group handles disability discrimination cases for employees statewide. We recently represented a city maintenance worker who had a motorcycle accident resulting in multiple physical injuries and a traumatic brain injury (he was not wearing a helmet). Prior to the accident, our client had an excellent work record, including a recent promotion to shift leader. After the accident, he was in a rehabilitation center for several months, relearning how to walk and talk.
Our client was highly motivated to return to work. At the time he returned, he was able to perform the essential functions of his job as a shift leader, but he had a noticeable limp and sometimes slurred his speech. He provided the city with detailed letters from his doctors discussing the nature of his injuries and continuing challenges.
Despite receiving detailed letters from our client’s doctors explaining that our client’s intellectual functioning was not diminished by the accident, several supervisors assumed from his speech impediment that he was mentally impaired. In his performance reviews, they accused him of being “slow,” “short-tempered,” a “weak link.” They mocked him for limping, calling him “sidewinder.” They undermined his authority with his shift workers and openly questioned his ability to do his job for no legitimate reason. One by one, they stripped him of his shift leader duties, effectively demoting him, and ultimately terminating him, citing budget cuts.
We filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Maine Human Rights Commission, a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit in court. We then filed suit in federal district court, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Maine Human Rights Act, and seeking back pay, front pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees.
Shortly after we filed suit, the city requested mediation and ended up paying a generous settlement to our client. Our client had a compelling story, but we marshaled the evidence in such a way as to make sure the jury would hear it. We hired a neuropsychologist and occupational health specialist to testify regarding our client’s qualifications to perform his job after the accident and the stereotypes that people with traumatic brain injuries often face. We obtained internal city documents that contained offensive and disparaging remarks about our client’s disability. We also highlighted the fact that despite our client’s repeated requests, the city never engaged in an interactive dialogue regarding reasonable accommodations necessary to facilitate our client’s transition back to work.
If you have been discriminated against on the basis of a disability or perceived disability, call Maine Employee Rights Group today, 207.874.0905, for legal consultation.