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Firing a worker based on mental illness stereotypes is against the law

Disability discrimination often isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. Especially for mental disabilities that aren’t well understood.

But ignorance of a disability and the laws protecting disabled employees is no defense for firing someone, as a recent federal lawsuit involving Bellingham-based BLI Northwest, Inc. illustrates.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued BLI (formerly known as Diamond B Constructors, Inc. and known as Harris Pacific Northwest LLC) for terminating a pipe fitter, Angela Watson, who had just started work at a job site in Anacortes.

Watson, who is also certified as a rigger, divulged to her supervisor one day that she had epilepsy, a neurological disorder that can lead to involuntary loss of consciousness or convulsions. Despite the fact that Watson’s condition was well-managed through medication, she hadn’t requested any accommodations and had no prior medical restrictions, her boss reasoning that she was a liability to the company and fired her.

The hasty termination violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers to assess a worker’s ability to perform job functions amid potential safety concerns on a case-by-case basis.

As part of a settlement, BLI agreed to pay Watson $100,000 in damages, as well as train employees on compliance and anti-discrimination laws including ADA.

“Epilepsy reportedly affects 2.2 million Americans and affects each person differently,” EEOC Seattle Field Director Nancy Sienko said. “It is critical that employers not base job decisions on stereotypes, but instead carefully consider each individual’s abilities.”

Emery Reddy helps workers. Call us at if you have a disability discrimination, workers’ comp, or other employment law claim. You won’t get better advice.

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