How My Mom Sued the Government and Won

 

The year is 1991. My mother has been recently promoted to branch secretary for a federal government agency. A few years after she started working at the agency, her section was disbanded and she was transferred to a new section with a new boss. While still recovering from a severe car accident that occurred three years prior, a mysterious illness begins to take over her body. Her new boss did everything he could to make this situation even more horrifying, so she filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the U.S. Department of the Interior, in which her boss served as a representative. Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act helped my mother tremendously in the workplace by protecting her from termination, safeguarding her from discrimination, and allowing her to seek the medical treatment she needed.

Still, in recovery from her car accident, my mother was also experiencing frightening and debilitating physical and psychological issues. She knew something was wrong beyond the aches and pains of bodily collision damage. From a slight tingle to full electricutory spasms, she would also experience full-body numbness that would last for days, in which she would lose the use of her limbs and could not walk, let alone attend work. It was impacting her daily life, including work attendance. During this time of turmoil, my mother sought out medical treatment and kept her employer fully aware during the whole process. Symptoms would go from one extreme to another. She did not know what was wrong with her, doctor after the doctor did not know either, a few even remarking that it is all an act. She was even referred to a psychologist, and that psychologist took one look at her and referred her to a neurologist. That neurologist diagnosed her with Multiple Sclerosis. When my mother was transferred to her new section as a branch secretary,  Not only did her new boss deny her the ability to be promoted, he demoted her immediately to an entry-level position and hired a new branch secretary. In addition to denying my mother her lateral job position following her transfer, he attempted to terminate her altogether. In the midst of all this, her boss walked into her office and said: “You and your stuff are out of here today and no phone call from your doctor is going to change it.” My mother was absolutely devastated. The job she had worked so hard for gone because of reasons she could not explain. No one else would hire her with “TERMINATED” on her record– especially in the federal government. She began doing research and went to work filing a claim under Title I of the A.D.A., which is employment. Knowing the state of health she was in at the time, she fought for her retirement as opposed to being rehired because if she retires, she can always return if the Multiple Sclerosis goes into remission. The Americans with Disabilities Act helped my mother tremendously because it states “it prohibits discrimination in recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social activities, and other privileges of employment”.¹ In her case, he would not even grant her the position she transferred in with. The A.D.A. also allowed her to retire after the onset of her illness, and saved her the humiliation of being fired and labeled an “unreliable employee”.

Not only does the A.D.A. protect people against wrongful termination, but also discrimination. After being demoted my mother was subjugated to less than equal pay for the same amount of work and experience as the other employees. She was transferred as a branch secretary but her new boss refused to acknowledge it. Because of this, she has bounced around from position to position, all of which were lower entry-level positions resulting in substantially less pay. Reasonable accommodations were not made in her state of declining mobility. The A.D.A. “requires that employers make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities.”² There were no wheelchair ramps to access the building, and there were only steps to reach the second floor. My mother was also discriminated against in a social aspect. She was talked about horribly by her boss and he facilitated this behavior among other employees. Her boss stated that this is because my mother did not do her work. With the help of the A.D.A., she had the chance to offer her evidence to the contrary that showed all her work and document keeping was neat, organized, and complete. The claimed was ruled in her favor due to the laws in the A.D.A. stating that the employer has no right to terminate or discriminate against an employee on the basis of disability, as long as they are able to perform essential job functions, in which she did above and beyond.

The most important thing the Americans with Disabilities Act did for my mother was that it allowed her to have the security to seek out medical treatment. Being under the care of a physician and the laws of the A.D.A. she was able to get the medical treatment necessary without fear of being fired. Not only did she have to seek out medical professionals for what she was going through already due to her Multiple Sclerosis, she also had to because of the psychological abuse she was put through in her work environment. The repeated threats of firing due to her medical problems resulted in a constant state of stress, which drastically increases the severity of Multiple Sclerosis symptoms. My mother was able to retire because of the A.D.A., and that retirement includes medical coverage in which she can pursue ongoing treatment.

Overall, the Americans with Disabilities Act has changed the landscape of this country. Both the physical landscape through the installment of ramps and elevators, and the demographic landscape by allowing disabled citizens to still have a chance to a successful life instead of being the largest sector of the impoverished. The A.D.A. empowers disabled citizens to not be mentally and physically abused in their place of work. It provides a strong backing to those who suffer from health problems to try to improve themselves, instead of being fired or being treated as a lesser individual. My mother was subject to wrongful termination and discrimination due to her disability. Even though her employer was the federal government, she fought back and was able to offer such solid evidence of these blatant wrongdoings that she won. This could not have happened without the act that was passed only a year before.

 

¹ , ² “A Guide to Disability Rights Laws.” A.D.A., U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Disability Rights Section Division, www.ada.gov/cguide.htm.

 

Author: Amber Roberts from Maryland Institute College of Art