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Military Veteran Discrimination Due To PTSD - A Case Study

Military Veteran Discrimination Due To PTSD - A Case Study

A former client (we'll call her Jane), was an active member of the U.S. Armed Forces for nearly fifteen years.  In that capacity, she ascended the ranks to the point where, as an officer, she was responsible for commanding several hundred people.  She was smart, capable and an effective leader.

She was also assaulted by a male colleague while in the military. 

The fallout from this was severe, and it caused her significant anxiety, stress and depression.  She tried to cope, but suffered.

Ultimately she was honorably discharged from the service, and elected to transition into the private sector.  She took a position with a large company in a leadership role.

Jane excelled in the position, using the skills that she had honed in the military very effectively in the private sector.  She once again ascended quickly to a leadership role, earning a significant salary.

But Jane was still suffering from severe post traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") from the incident in the military.  And while she did her best to manage it, she needed support from her employer.

Only they did not provide any.  Instead, when she attempted to take leave for medical treatment, they fired her.  

She found herself in an unfamiliar position, of being overly qualified for a job, but unemployable because of a medical condition that she was dealing with through no fault of her own.

So what could she do?

Jane chose to fight back.  Given her background, she knew that what the company did was wrong; was illegal.  The disability discrimination laws, including the The Americans with Disabilities Act and the New York State Human Rights Law, protect employees from being because of a disability or because they need to take time off for a disability (that's called a reasonable accommodation).  When hearing about discrimination against veterans,  you have also probably heard of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).  It is questionable, however, whether USERRA includes disability discrimination as opposed to purely military service discrimination or the failure to provide an accommodation upon reemployment.  Typically, if a veteran is discriminated against because of a disability and not because of his or her military service, that is an ADA case and not a USERRA case.  Sometimes it can be both, and you can read about one of those cases here.    

The disability laws require that the employer work with the employee, to determine what level of support they need, and to see if the employer can provide it.

Jane's employer did none of this; in fact, when Jane went to them for help, they responded that they simply "can't deal with this stuff."

When Karen hired us, we prepared a complaint and filed a lawsuit in Federal Court.  We (and Jane) needed to show her employer that what they did was patently wrong, and that we (and Jane) were willing to go the distance to prove it.

Not surprisingly, Jane's employer denied that they did anything wrong.  They defended the case, at least initially.  Then the case was sent to mediation, as happens in most federal lawsuits.  

Prior to mediation we prepared a lengthy summary of Jane's case.  We presented it to the mediator, and then went in and argued that Jane's employer was wrong, both technically and practically, in the way that they handled Jane's situation.  We took a hard line, demanding that the employer pay Jane what she was entitled to, and reaffirming to them that if they did not, we would move forward with the case.  We would take depositions of employees; we would demand more and more documents; we would go to trial. 

The employer was in trouble, and they settled the case and paid Jane what she deserved.  She was able to walk away from the situation, knowing that she had challenged this bad behavior, and won.  And she was able to know that her actions likely impacted the way that the company would do business in the future.  Because how do companies learn?  By getting hit in the wallet.  

Jane's situation is more common that you might think; in fact if you are reading this is might have happened to you.  Many people in this situation don't know what to do, and as a result do nothing.   We're here to tell you that you may have options.  Call us today.

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