The perception among some folks is that discrimination lawsuits are almost always frivolous. Some people believe discrimination could never happen to a good worker. One of my clients illustrates the fallacy of that belief.
Sue worked hard for her employer, a major employer in San Antonio. She thrived despite disabilities such as spina bifida and depression. Sue worked in Human Resources, the experts on discrimination and personnel issues. She had an informal accommodation that whenever her depression worsened, she would work from home. That is what her employer did when they were sick anyway – they worked from home. So, her "accommodation" was already part of the corporate culture. All the salaried employees would work from home on sick days.
Sue’s depression worsened at the same time each year, which coincided with the time of the year when her family suffered a huge family crisis some years before. The employer, Acme Brick, was understanding. Her boss was the HR Direcotor. Acme Brick went through many HR directors. The HR directors all had a good undertanding of the law allowing accommodation. Sue was the "star" employee. The HR Directors would praise Sue at management meeting as the "right hand woman" in HR. Sue produced the payroll every two weeks with no errors, ever. After about a year, she got her third new HR Director, Bob. Bob praised Sue at the management meeting In April. He gave her a raise in June.
One day in July, a co-workers told Sue that Bob seemed to be hiring his former co-workers from a prior job. Sue doubted it but pulled up Bob’s resume to see where Bob had worked in the past. Bob walked in, saw his resume on Sue’s computer screen and yelled at her. He then walked out. A week later, Sue called in sick. She said she would work from home, as always. But later that day, Bob had her access to the work sever pulled. Now, Sue could do no work from home. In an email later that day, Bob told Sue her absences were becoming a problem. Sue offered to take FMLA leave, unpaid leave. Bob did not respond.
Sue was on good terms with a member of the board. She told Jack what had happened. Jack assured her she would not lose her job. He said they had some issues with Bob. So, Jack asked Sue to quietly check Bob’s background and see if there were any issues. Sue agreed to do so.
Driving to work the next day, Sue had a flat tire. She called Bob to let him know. Her spina bifida kept her from performing manual labor. She she had to wait for her husband to come help with the tire. Over the noise of Loop 410 traffic, Bob fired Sue. Sue could barely hear him over the noise. Bob said her attitude was an issue.
So, only a month after giving her a raise, Bob fired her for "attitude and performance" issues. Bob had only been the Director for some three months. He had never counseled Sue verbally or in writing.
Sue then spoke with Jack. Jack said he could do nothing. He offered a small severance payment. But, Sue loved Acme Brick. She wanted her job.
Eventually, she filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Acme Brick coded Sue as not "rehireable." Sue applied for countless HR jobs. But, HR was the one area where managers knew what "unhireable" meant. She could not get a job or an interview. With her spina bifida, she might qualify for Social Security. But, she wanted to work. Now, a lawsuit became more important to the former "star" employee.
As one client told me, one day you’re the stud. The next day, you’re the dud.