Wednesday, September 23, 2009

EEOC Sees Mental Health Stereotypes at Work

The federal government is suing a North Carolina employer for what it calls a pervasive problem in the workplace: discrimination against employees with mental illness.

In the federal suit filed Sept. 21 in the Eastern District of North Carolina, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission contends that the Smith International Truck Center relied upon "myths, fears and stereotypes about mental impairments" when it unlawfully terminated an employee who took leave for a mental health issue.

According to the suit, the employee, Stephen Kerns, took one week off from work to obtain medical treatment and get his dosage adjusted for medicine he took for what the complaint calls a mental impairment. The man then returned to work with no restrictions, but was fired shortly thereafter, according to the EEOC.

The agency asserts that his employer fired Kerns because of his perceived disability -- in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. "The employer just assumed, acting on stereotypes, that if he's getting treatment for any kind of mental impairment, that he must not be able to work, and that's the problem. They didn't look at his abilities," said Carol Miaskoff, assistant legal counsel to the EEOC.


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