FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Karen I. Ward
(800) 537-2632 ext. 7330
(800) 610-2779 (TTY)
Barry C. Taylor
Legal Advocacy Director
(800) 537-2632 ext. 7317
(800) 610-2779 TTY
Veteran of Gulf War Sues Commonwealth Edison for Discriminatory Discharge
Equip for Equality Goes to Bat for Veteran with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
CHICAGO (November 3, 2006) --Equip for Equality filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a Desert Storm Veteran who was fired by Commonwealth Edison ("Com Ed") after he revealed he was experiencing symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. The suit was brought against Com Ed and Exelon, its parent corporation, claiming violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family & Medical Leave Act.
Timothy Pruitt served in the Mortuary Services unit of the United States Air Force in Northern Iraq during the first Gulf War, Desert Storm. His duties included identifying and then refrigerating the bodies of his fallen comrades, men and women who had worked with him, eaten meals with him, and shared their fears and hopes for the future with him. Later he volunteered for a second tour of duty performing humanitarian service to starving Kurdish refugees.
Like many service members, Pruitt brought home vivid memories of the horrors that he saw. In part as result of his war experiences, Pruitt later developed depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. He received treatment and worked hard to keep the memories at bay so he could lead a productive life as a civilian.
In 1997, Pruitt began work for Com Ed. He progressed to the position of Customer Care Representative, in the Com Ed Customer Care Centers located in Oakbrook, Illinois, where he served for five years. Pruitt was an exemplary employee, receiving several awards and commendations. He was consistently rated among the top 5% of employees in terms of productivity and was recognized for perfect attendance. During his seven years with Com Ed, he never had a single disciplinary incident.
In March of 2005, because he was concerned that it might affect his productivity at work, Pruitt confided to his supervisor that he was experiencing symptoms of his mental illness, including that he was depressed. Three days later, he was denied entrance to his place of work, placed on involuntary medical leave, and instructed to undergo a fitness for duty evaluation. As a condition of Pruitt's being considered to return to work, Com Ed also required him to sign a release to allow the company to view the actual notes of therapy sessions taken by a social worker whom Pruitt had been seeing privately and whom had been recommended by the Exelon Employee Assistance Program.
Pruitt obtained two medical evaluations, one by a psychiatrist he retained and one conducted by a psychiatrist retained by Exelon. He received some treatment, including medication. Both doctors released Pruitt to return to work on May 1, 2005. But Com Ed refused to return him to work and kept him on involuntary leave until February of 2006, when it fired him.
"Rather than applaud a Veteran who shared his diagnosis with a supervisor to make sure his employer suffered no loss of productivity as a result of his condition, Com Ed turned against an outstanding employee," says Karen I. Ward, Equip for Equality Senior Counsel and lead attorney in the case. "First, it invaded his most private and privileged communications in an unlawful fishing expedition in search of information to use against him. Then it rejected its own medical expert's conclusions, choosing instead to be guided by fear and predjudice. This is precisely what the ADA was designed to prohibit." Equip for Equality Senior Attorney Alan M. Goldstein is also representing Pruitt.
Pruitt, who is married and the father of a 9-month old son, has been looking for work for a year, but without success due to the stigma of his discharge.
"After seven years of honestly and diligently serving Com Ed, I was humiliated, forced to reveal my most private communications, which were irrelevant to Com Ed, and then thrown away like a useless piece of garbage." says Pruitt. "I want my job back, I want my reputation back, and I want this never to happen to another Veteran."
In the Complaint filed by Equip for Equality, Pruitt seeks reinstatement to his job, back pay, compensatory and punitive damages. "Only by vigorous enforcement of the ADA's requirement that employers not substitute fear and prejudice for fairness will the pattern of isolating and stigmatizing those with mental illness be broken," says Barry Taylor, Equip for Equality's Legal Advocacy Director. "Where, as here, the unlawful discrimination serves to further wound a service member whose disability arose in part from serving his country, the need for legal action is even greater."
The case was filed in the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago, and has been assigned to the Honorable Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer.
Equip for Equality is a private, statewide, not-for-profit entity designated by the Governor to administer the federal Protection and Advocacy System for safeguarding the rights of people with physical and mental disabilities in Illinois. For more information contact Karen I. Ward at (312) 895-7330 or (773) 350-8722, or Barry Taylor at (312) 895-7317 or TTY (800) 610-2779.
Reference: Pruitt v. Commonwealth Edison Company
U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois
Case No. 06 CV 5979