On March 28, after a four-day bench trial, Judge Edward F. Shea of US District Court for Eastern Washington ruled in Reilly's favor, noting "Cottonwood's deficient ADA policies and practices." He found that the company's half-dozen different rationales for terminating Reilly were simply a pretext for discrimination. The Judge awarded Reilly $6,500 in back wages and $50,000 for emotional pain and suffering. The court also issued a three-year injunction, requiring The Cash Store to train its managers and human resources personnel on anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws.
This is not the first case of its kind for the EEOC.
In 2003, the EEOC sued Lincoln, Nebraska-based Voss Electric Co. on behalf of a former worker with bipolar disorder. The EEOC charged Voss with violating the ADA by terminating a long-time employee of its Oklahoma City facility who needed in-patient care because of bipolar disorder. Rather than allow the employee the additional time off recommended by his physicians, Voss fired him by taping a termination letter to the front door of his home. The employee was awarded $91,250.
Still, "This is the first case taken to trial by the EEOC involving someone who is bipolar," says William Tamayo, the EEOC's regional attorney in San Francisco."These are generally harder cases to win, in part because mental disability is a much more difficult area for litigation than physical disability. But here the judge concluded that Cottonwood was motivated by a bias against people with this kind of disability after Mr. Reilly had disclosed that he was bipolar, and they fired him because he was being regarded as disabled."
The case is "precedent-setting because Judge Shea concluded that Sean was illegally fired due to the fact that The Cash Store regarded and perceived him as disabled and unable to do his job, when the actual facts were that Sean had been performing his job to the standards set by the company," says Reilly's private counsel, Keller Allen, of Spokane, Wash.
Reilly, meanwhile, returned to school and graduated summa cum laude from the University of Washington, Richland, with a degree in physical science in 2010. His medication is under control, and he feels infinitely better. The ruling has only helped his mood.
"Getting fired told me that not only can I not succeed at school, I can't even get a job," he says." I got really depressed at that. So, when I won it was like all those years of emotional baggage suddenly went away. The judge reassured me and commended me for not letting my disability get in my way. I hope this verdict enables other people with bipolar disorder to have an equal chance at obtaining and maintaining successful and fulfilling careers and to prevent future discrimination."