On Thursday, an appeals court tossed out a $600,000 discrimination judgment against a law firm that fired an attorney. The attorney was fired because it is alleged that he has bipolar disorder. The attorney supposedly billed clients for personal expenses that included hotel rooms, escort services and pornographic movies.
An administrative law judge at the State Division of Human Rights has been criticized by the Appellate Division, First Department. The judge has been criticized for ruling in favor of James Hazen and subsequently awarding Hazen $50,000 for mental anguish. An additional $550,000 in lost pay was granted after an appeal was filed by Hazen.
It was found by the court that the law firm of Hill Betts & Nash received no indication that Hazen was suffering from bipolar disorder at the time the firm terminated his contract back in 2006. The reason for this is that Hazen refused to give the firm details regarding a mood problem that he claimed was causing his actions in the office.
“All that was before HBN when it terminated the petitioner on February 3 was that he had charged more than $21,000 in hotels and other personal expenses to the corporate credit card and tried to bill HBN’s clients for personal expenses,” Justice James Catterson wrote for the unanimous panel.
Hazen was also blamed by the court for a claim that he turned to hotel rooms and escorts when he suffered from bouts of the illness he was suffering from at the time. Hazen acknowledged that he would book the rooms in advance, at least a couple of weeks in advance, and that he did the same thing back in 2001. In 2001, he tried to list an escort he hired as a client expense.
“The only way to credit the testimony that his disorder caused him to engage in such behavior, is to accept the preposterous notion that he was able to predict his mental state weeks in advance and plan accordingly,” Catterson wrote.
According to the ruling, even if the mental illness Hazen suffers from led to his actions, “a petitioner’s disability does not shield him from the consequences of workplace misconduct.”
Even if there was evidence out there that Hazen’s behavior could be traced to his disorder, which the court does not believe, “the firm was not required to excuse that misconduct as an accommodation.”
The attorney for Hazen, William Roth, said that he and his client had yet to decide whether they would appeal the decision.
The lawyer for Hill Betts & Nash, Diane Windholz, said that the firm is very pleased with the decision of the court.
“They clearly found that the firm at all times acted appropriately with regard to Mr. Hazen,” she said.