Appeals Court rules against AT&T Wisconsin in disability discrimination case

The District I Appeals Court in Milwaukee has ruled that AT&T Wisconsin (also known as Wisconsin Bell) violated state law when it fired an employee with bipolar disorder.

The court said there was evidence to show that the company violated state law and discriminated against an employee with a disability.

The man had worked for Wisconsin Bell since 1986. Back in 1997, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and informed his supervisor of the diagnosis in 2006. The company apparently made temporary accommodations when he experienced symptoms while working as a customer service representative.

He was suspended pending termination back in 2010 for disconnecting a number of calls in a short period of time, violating company policy. After a hearing, he was suspended for 50 days without pay.

A labor relations manage then told him that he could not get an accommodation related to call avoidance, no matter his diagnosis. He was also put on probation for a year.

Just 10 days after returning to work, he had to leave the office because of illness but inadvertently sent a message to a manager thanking her for being a friend. He apologized and messaged “Sorry wrong window.” He was then suspended for using the internal messaging service to chat with a co-worker about personal matters.

The review board this time fired him for “continued and repeated behavior of avoiding customer calls.”

He argued that he was reaching out to friendly co-workers, as his therapist had urged, after a transfer request had been denied. He filed complaints with the Equal Rights Division of Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development, alleging that both the 50-day suspension and later termination were based on his disability.

An administrative law judge ruled in his favor, ordering reinstatement, back pay, attorney’s fees and costs. The Labor Industry Review Commission reversed the ruling on the 50-day suspension but agreed that the termination was because of discrimination based on the man’s disability.

The case ultimately arrived before the appeals court, which decided that the man’s bipolar condition caused the conduct that was used by his employer to fire him and therefore Wisconsin Bell had violated state law.

Attorneys experienced in Wisconsin and federal labor law can help you resolve these complex legal matters. 


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