INDIA

Suicidal and needing help, executive at Georgia company says he was fired instead

Ranew’s Management Company in Milner, Georgia, is accused of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act after reportedly firing its chief financial officer because of his depression. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit against the company in the Middle District of Georgia on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021.

Ranew’s Management Company in Milner, Georgia, is accused of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act after reportedly firing its chief financial officer because of his depression. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit against the company in the Middle District of Georgia on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021.

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A former executive at a company in Georgia was admitted to a psychiatric hospital after experiencing suicidal thoughts, according to federal court filings.

Six weeks later, he reportedly tried to return to work and was fired instead.

Now the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency tasked with enforcing anti-discrimination laws in the workplace, is suing his former employer. In a lawsuit filed Monday, Dec. 20, in the Middle District of Georgia, the EEOC said Ranew’s Management Company fired him because of his depression in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“It is inexcusable and unlawful for an employer to base decisions about employees with disabilities on stereotypes and fears,” Marcus G. Keegan, regional attorney for the EEOC Atlanta District Office, said in a news release.

Ranew’s Management is a manufacturing and product assembly company headquartered in Milner, Georgia, about 50 miles northwest of Macon. Representatives from the company could not be reached for comment by McClatchy News on Wednesday, Dec. 22.

According to the complaint, Ranew’s provides fabrication, coatings, assembly and logistics services to various clients. The former executive was hired at the company in 2011 and was working as its chief financial officer in August 2018 when he first began experiencing suicidal thoughts, the EEOC said.

On Sept. 2, 2018, he reportedly told Ranew’s CEO that he needed help. Two days later, the suicidal thoughts “became overwhelming,” and he went to the Coliseum Medical Center for Behavioral Health in Macon seeking professional help.

According to the lawsuit, the CFO was assessed at the hospital and admitted to the outpatient Behavioral Health Program on Sept. 6, 2018, which he attended for five days. On Sept. 12, 2018, he was diagnosed with major, severe, recurring depression.

A therapist and psychiatrist told the CFO he needed to take some time off work for treatment — a recommendation he took to his CEO, the EEOC said.

“In response, the CEO told (him) to ‘take three weeks, three months, three years, whatever it takes to get yourself back to you,’” the lawsuit states.

The CFO’s psychiatrist reportedly spent several weeks trying to find the right prescription of antidepressants. But the EEOC said he suffered a “major setback and once again had suicidal thoughts” in October 2018, resulting in his wife admitting him to the psychiatric hospital again for treatment.

According to the complaint, the CFO was placed on new antidepressants and discharged from the hospital on Oct. 22, 2018, with a release to return to work the following week. He reportedly met with the CEO and comptroller at Ranew’s the following day.

During their meeting, the EEOC said, the CFO gave them his return-to-work note from the doctor.

“In response, the CEO asked (him) ‘how a doctor could see you one time and give you clearance to work,” and ’how can I trust you to do my accounting work if you have another episode?’” the lawsuit states.

He was fired in short order, the EEOC said.

Before his termination, the CFO was never told of any performance issues at work or problems with his attendance, according to the complaint. He also made sure to meet with the CEO in person on a weekly basis during the six weeks he was out.

The EEOC said Ranew’s “regarded (him) as disabled and unable to perform the essential functions of his position because of his mental impairment.”

The CFO filed a charged of discrimination with the EEOC shortly after he was fired. On June 4, the agency determined there was reasonable cause to believe Ranew’s violated the ADA and tried to resolve the allegations out of court.

When that failed, the EEOC filed suit.

The lawsuit requests back pay, front pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages for the former executive as well as injunctive relief to prevent future discrimination.

“The EEOC is seeking non-monetary relief, including training high-level executives and policy adjustments, to prevent this from happening in the future,” Keegan said.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800 273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

Hayley Fowler is a reporter at The Charlotte Observer covering breaking and real-time news across North and South Carolina. She has a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and previously worked as a legal reporter in New York City before joining the Observer in 2019.

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