Job Termination/Discrimination for FMLA for Bipolar Affective Disorder

In my previous post, I explained the circumstances behind my termination of employment.  No one was more surprised and shocked by this action than me.  All of my co-workers were shocked as well.  I was inundated with emails from co-workers asking me what the hell was up?  I truly could not believe the reason stated for my dismissal.  And, previously I mentioned there was a change in atmosphere after returning from my FMLA medical leave in December for treatment and hospitalization for a serious bout of depression.  I knew deep down in my heart that this was the reason for my dismissal.  My sister-in-law has been the Director of Human Resources for a mid-size manufacturing company for over 20 years.  I forwarded to her the offending email that got me fired and quoted the termination letter paragraph siting the Handbook Code violation and requested her professional opinion.  I also expressed my belief that I was truly let go because of my bipolar disorder, which, of course, is illegal.  Her opinion was the same as mine and absolutely everyone else I presented my situation too.  She gave me some recommendations as to how to respond to the company to be sure I was eligible for unemployment and regarding future references, etc.  Later that same day, I sent a very detailed email to the HR Director who terminated me and my boss (VP Corporate Development and part owner) outlining my belief that I was discriminated against due to FMLA medical leave taken for bipolar affective disorder.  I also sent everything to my attorney.

In this email, I referenced my last performance evaluation conducted by my boss, VP Corporate Development and part owner of the company, completed in November 2011.  Prior to my evaluation, I suggested to my boss that I solicit input from various other parties and departments that I regularly support and that he had no knowledge of.  He felt this was a good idea.  My fellow coworkers sent glowing recommendations from the Quality Manager, Purchasing Agent, CEO, EH&S Coordinator and several salesmen to my boss highlighting specific special projects I had performed for them over the past year and what an outstanding job I did.  Like all previous performance evaluations, I was rated between Very Satisfactory to Outstanding, with suggestions for continuous improvement.  There were no negative comments or complaints sited.

My attorney called me back and I made an appointment to see him the following morning.  I was fired on a Wednesday.

On Thursday morning there was an email response from my former employer, HR Director, in response to my email sent the previous day siting discrimination for FMLA. Attached was a comprehensive “Release and Severance Agreement.”  Under this agreement the Company would pay 12 months of COBRA Health Insurance premiums and maintain coverage at the same level of coverage for myself and husband, as well as the vision and dental (premiums are $1,049.00/month).  It further stated that the Company would not contest my claim for unemployment insurance benefits.  In return for these considerations were six pages of terms and conditions where I would “never” or “forever” hold the Company harmless and forgo my rights to trial by jury and numerous other protections afforded the Company (specifically calling out Federal Family and Medical Leave Act “FMLA”).  The following is an example of the verbiage used:

“As a material inducement to Company and Employee to enter into this Agreement, Employee for herself and her personal representatives, irrevocably and unconditionally waives and releases forever, with prejudice, Company and its officers, directors, shareholders, employees, employee benefit plans (including their fiduciaries and administrators) and agents (collectively Released Parties), and the Released Parties irrevocably and unconditionally waive and release forever, with prejudice.  Employee and her heirs, agents, assigns, transferees and personal representatives, from any and all charges, complaints, claims, liabilities, obligations, promises, agreements, controversies, damages, actions, suits, rights, demands, costs, losses, debts and expenses (including attorney’s fees and costs actually incurred) of any nature, whether sounding in contract, tort or other theory, known and unknown, suspected or unsuspected that have or may have arisen through this date (collectively, Claims), including but not limited to, rights under federal, state or local laws prohibiting handicap/disability, age, race, sex or other forms of discrimination, including by way of illustration and not limitation, claims or rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended, the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Federal Family and Medical leave Act and any and all other labor and employment statues or other Claims growing out of the restrictions on the rights of Company to hire or terminate its employees, but excluding any Claims arising from or relating to either: (i) any fraud or dishonesty by Employee or (ii) the breach of this Agreement.”

Holy cow!!! That is all one sentence.  Definitely written by an attorney.  The Agreement goes on for six more pages like that.  My attorney advised that it wasn’t written for my benefit (even though that is how the Company presented it), it is drafting to protect “The Company.”  I am also bound by strict confidentiality not to disclose any information regarding the Agreement, or that the Agreement itself even exists, so I cannot say anymore.

Well, okay.  So now I have some real heavy thinking to do.  My attorney feels I would have enough objections to raise a suit, but the real question comes down to;  Can I survive the next year or year and half while this thing goes to court or settles?  And the answer is, “no.”  The cost of my psych meds alone would break me.  Not to  mention the frequent P-Doc and therapist visits.  I did want to add (i) that they deem my departure from the Company as being laid off, and (ii) that they provide me with a written letter of reference.  I have never been fired before.  I have excellent references from each of my former employers.  But my attorney advised that if I make any type of counter-offer, it basically makes their original offer null and void and they could rescind it completely.  I asked if there was anything in the Agreement that would prevent me for asking for these things after the Agreement was executed, and the answer was, “no.”   So, if I add up the maximum weekly unemployment benefit, plus 12 months of health insurance premiums, it comes out to around $30,588.  So I accepted the Release and Severance Agreement as presented and returned it via overnight FedEx.  The Agreement allowed 21 days’ time for consideration, but once my mind was made up, I wanted it signed, sealed and delivered asap.

That was two months ago.  I have since been in one of the deepest, darkest, longest horrible depression I can ever remember.  The trigger was job loss, but the net result to me was major trauma.  In addition to my bipolar diagnosis, the therapist and P-Doc I now see diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  This conclusion was reached based on the brief history I provided from my childhood.  Basically, take the book “Sybil” and the book “A Child Called It” and you have my childhood.   Extreme neglect, poverty, pain, physical, verbal and sexual abuse.  I have also been experiencing extreme anger and thoughts of retribution against my former employer and his family.  This is something new.  My insomnia and nightmares are so bad that I am afraid to go to sleep.  So I manage on 0-2 hours a night right now.  All my psych meds have been bumped up to maximum therapeutic range.  My current meds are:

  • Geodon – 80mg twice a day
  • Lamictal – 200mg a day
  • Prozac – 50mg a day
  • Wellbutrin SR – 150mg twice a day
  • Valium – 10mg three times a day p.r.n.
  • Synthroid (Hypothyroidism) – 200mcg day
  • Ambien (Insomnia) – 10mg day
  • Nuvigil (For mornings after no sleep) 150mg day p.r.n.
  • Flexeril (Pain Management) – 10mg three times a day
  • MS Contin (Pain Management) – 60mg twice a day
  • Vicodin (Pain Management) – 750/325mg three times a day p.r.n. for breakthrough pain
  • Relistor (Gastroenterologist) – 6ml injection every other day

I am being treated under Pain Management for chronic pain, mostly lower back.  I have degenerative disc disease at L4, L5 and arthritis at T10, T11; two right shoulder surgeries that is very painful; and fibromyalgia.   This whole topic of pain with depression is for another day.  It is a catch 22 between pain causing depression and the depression making the pain worse.

Enough for today.  There is probably some social media networking blog rule that limits the length of posts???  I don’t write often, therefore, I feel comfortable writing long.

Next up …. Unemployment, Psychiatric Treatment Options, and/or Social Security Disability.


Day 1 – The “Trigger” to this Major Depressive Episode

I am at extremely low point right now. This depressive episode was triggered by my being “Involuntary Termination” (as in FIRED) from my job. I am an experienced Executive Administrative Assistant with more than 15 years’ experience. However, I have been faced with times when my depression gets so bad that I am unable to work for a period of time. My boss, Vice President of Corporate Development and part owner, says he understands my depression and do what I have to do. I fill out all the necessary paperwork in HR for FMLA leave of absence. I have only had to do this twice in five years. The first time was right after I started working and it had not yet been a year, therefore; I was not eligible for FMLA. But the company said they understood and gave me the time off as long as it was always followed up with proper documentation from the doctor’s office. Which I did faithfully. We don’t have sick days or vacation days, per se, we have PTO (Paid Time Off). Normally this is to be requested in advance. However, with depression you never what day you are going to wake up and just can’t get out of bed that day. So I would call in and use a PTO day. Well after 4 years the HR department calls me in and presents me with a “Written Warning, 1st, for absenteeism and a 90-day correction plan.”  During the next 90 days I cannot be late or leave early or miss any work. The REASON for this is because the handbook clearly states that PTO time needs to be “prearranged.” Ahhhh I say to myself. Okay, I can play by those rules. I can usually tell when I’m having a bad day and think or feel it is not going to improve, so I schedule my PTO days. Then in December of 2011 I experienced another severe bout of deep dark depression. I was crying all the time and couldn’t concentrate, I was filled with self-loathing and wanted to kill myself. My husband, family doctor, psychiatrist (P-Doc) and therapist all felt I needed inpatient care and was admitted. My husband and doctor notified work, HR and my boss and followed up with the necessary FMLA paperwork. I was only out for three weeks. Actually I know I went back to soon. But when I got back there was a very definite change in the weather in the office with my co-workers and Salesmen that I support as well as my boss. My boss was not answering my emails. I talked to him about it. He assured me nothing was wrong. Then, shortly after that, one of the girls, who is my backup when I am out of the office, was terminated. So I had to train a new girl to fulfill my duties with regard to my communications while I am out of the office (I’ll call her co-worker #1). The other girl who backed me up was responsible for covering my Outlook calendar, scheduling, travel, and itineraries for the corporate jet etc., (Co-worker #2).

The new girl (co-worker #1) was very young and made a lot of mistakes. I worked with her and understood her anxiety with a new job and everything. I would review her work and bring to her attention any errors for her to fix. I felt this was a good way to improve her skills. Especially proofreading. At the level we function in and outside the corporation, typos, or wrong numbers just don’t float.

So, anyway, I scheduled a day off to take my MOS certification testing for Word and Excel expert level (MOS stands for Microsoft Office Specialist). These MOS classes and certification testing had been approved by my boss. I try to keep my training down so that I am only out of the office 2 to 3 days a month (1-day classes).. I set my “Out of Office Notification” to read, “contact co-worker #1 for anything relative to Sales, Lab, correspondence and to contact co-worker #2 for flight reservations on the corporate jet.”  I advise that I will call in at 10:00, noon and 2:00 when classes break.

So I go to take my exams (aced them both). When I return to work the next morning I am going through my emails and I see a response from co-worker #2 (who was recently promoted to work in customer service, but she had not yet made the transition). Basically I had a flight scheduled for today, the day I’m reading this email. The salesman sent me a reminder yesterday that their trip was tomorrow and they still did not have their itinerary with departure details and car rentals etc. He received my “Out of Office Notification” so then forwarded the email to co-worker #2, who is responsible for covering this portion of my job when I am out of the office. Co-worker #2 replied back to the salesman, something to the effect of:

“I don’t know if you know it yet or not, but I have taken over a new position. Please contact Pilot Company XYZ directly,” and then sent his request back to him AND also copied XYZ Company on the email. I was very upset that she replied in such an unprofessional manner.  She certainly could have (and should have) followed up with XYZ Company and obtained the necessary paperwork on behalf of the salesman.  So I sent co-worker #2 a relatively nice but curt email stating that I realized she had a new position coming up but that no official notice or transfer of duties has been implied or expressed. There was no reason for her to bounce that email back to the salesman and XYZ company. I believe she should have followed up on this request and it shed poor light on Our Company in the eyes of our professional partner, XYZ Company.

I continued to state that effective immediately I would write a notice that co-worker #2 was no longer the POC for the company jet.”

I copied her boss (he’s a real idiot too) and HR on the email as well.

At around 11 o’clock the director of HR asks if I can come see her after lunch, say 1:00? (Note: This is the same HR director who just told me last week that my annual presentation on Travel Expenses impressed the other VP of Operations.  (He had very limited exposure to my work.) He was really pleased and would like me to start attending the quarterly review meetings under my own position (as opposed to taking notes or representing my boss).  She made it a point to pass this information along to me.)

So I go in her office and 1:00 pm and she asks her assistant to join us (never a good sign). She sat down, straight-faced, and read me a one paragraph termination letter effective immediately because I wrote an email to co-worker #2 that was “perceived” as chastisement and I am not her supervisor. Handbook section 111 states, “… yadda yadda yadda not cause discord or disrupt harmony in the workplace, yadda yadda yadda…”

I was livid. I told her she had to be kidding me? There is a precedence set where I train these girls on how and what to do in my absence. If something is done incorrectly, I bring it to their attention. I have been operating in this capacity since I started four years ago. Basically it comes down to responsibility without authority (which is nothing new if you are good at being an Executive Assistant – goes with the territory). But I was like, “hey, all my performance review are good, satisfactory or excellent. I only had the one written warning on attendance. You don’t think this could be handled with a warning?” I certainly did not feel it was enough justification for termination.

So we finish my exit interview and go over all the confidentiality BS, turn in badges, etc. She gave me a paper box and told me to clean out my desk and her assistant (“Flunky”) would walk me to the door. OH I WAS SMOKING.

I picked up a big pile of papers at my desk and was putting it in the box and Flunky says, “you can’t take those, that is work materials and belongs to the company.”  I said, “LOOK, its birthday cards, my calendar, my 401K stuff and EOBs from Health Insurance. Everything in this pile is mine.”  I put the pile in the box.  I continued to take down my pictures and empty drawers, etc. Purposely taking my time because I knew Flunky was inexperienced and nervous as hell. And I was so pissed off there was nothing anyone was going to say to me. Then, I quickly started forwarding the subject emails that got me fired to my personal email address so I would have a record. Well, you should have seen old Flunky freak out. Screaming at me that that computer is work property and I can no longer touch it. I got three of the important emails sent off that I needed. But by this point she is pulling my keyboard away from me and saying she is going to call the cops. I’m like, “whatever.” So then I purposely slowed down loading my personal items from my drawers even more. Then Flunky gets shitty and says, “that’s it, that’s enough, let’s go, right now.” I still had a locker I had to clean out, but by this time the whole office know what was up, so I took my leisurely stroll out the door. Wishing everyone well and saying goodbye. (of course my heart was beating out of my chest and I knew I was going to start to cry.) I made it to my car and out of the parking lot before the waterworks started.

I called my husband and told him what happened. As soon as I got home I tried to login on my remote access and my password was denied. I’m like shit, shit shit, There is so much stuff on my computer, all clearly marked “Personal” that I wanted to get off of there. So now I’m pissed again, so for shits and grins I tried to buy a $2.99 book on ebay using my company credit card. *&%$#% Nope. No go. Okay, so now I’m like, they had to have been planning this way before this morning to have shut me down so fast . My company cell phone, VM, everything was shut down.

Then I called my attorney ……

To be continued….