A federal court in Connecticut has held that a jury could reasonably find that a cellphone company doing business as Verizon Wireless discriminated against an employee because of his disability. The employee, Edward Green, had a history of chronic back pain stemming from a back injury that required surgery. He worked for Verizon Wireless as a customer service representative who fielded customer calls and attempted to resolve their complaints.
Mr. Green suffered an exacerbation of his back pain that required him to take leave. He was worried about taking leave because his supervisor had told him in the past that employees who took sick leave could be fired and if anyone had any complaints about that, they could be fired for their complaints. While on leave, Mr. Green’s supervisor told him multiple times not to take too much leave and that he could be fired. Eventually that is exactly what happened—Verizon Wireless fired Mr. Green while he was on leave.
Verizon Wireless argued to the court that it fired Mr. Green because he experienced five disconnected calls and it fired any customer service representative with five disconnected calls. But Mr. Green said no one ever communicated this supposed rule to him; it also did not communicate the rule to other employees; and Verizon Wireless never put the rule in writing. Verizon Wireless presented evidence of other customer service representatives who it claims it fired for violating this rule but many of them had significantly more than five disconnected calls. Due to this evidence, and other evidence presented, the court determined that a reasonable jury could determine that Verizon Wireless did not actually terminate Mr. Green for violating this alleged rule and, instead, fired him for taking medical leave for his back pain.
Verizon Wireless also argued that Mr. Green could not prove that he suffered disability discrimination because his need for medical leave rendered him unqualified for the job. The court rejected this argument because employer’s must provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities to enable them to remain employed. One example of a reasonable accommodation is medical leave. The court cautioned that medical leave of an indefinite duration could be an accommodation that an employer does not have to provide. However, Mr. Green did not ask for indefinite medical leave. Instead, he was in regular contact with his employer, updating them about his status, and asking for a series of short intervals of leave.
Mr. Green’s story is similar to the stories of many employees who need medical leave for disabilities. While it may be inconvenient for employers to provide medical leave, it is often a reasonable accommodation required by law. The Maine Employee Rights Group has represented many workers who have been fired because they needed medical leave. If you have faced a similar problem at work, contact us to learn more about your rights.