PhD student terminated because of mental illness

Apple pandas_df
Jul 11 34 Comments

This question is related to my brother’s experience. He was a PhD student in the US. During his PhD, a little over a year ago, he was hospitalized with his first episode of mental illness. His advisor immediately terminated his employment telling me that my brother was not fit to do a PhD in his lab. He further told me that he had worked with a mentally ill student in the past and it was a mistake and he cannot repeat the same mistake with my brother. While it hurt to hear that, I didn’t think much about the termination at that time as my first priority was helping with my brother’s treatment and getting him back on his feet. He had to leave the country since he could not be on a student visa without employment and he has been staying at home since. The drastic life change and not having an independent source of income have been stressing him out and he recently had his second episode. The diagnosis ultimately given was bipolar 1. I know this is a complicated situation but am I crazy in thinking that the professor discriminated against my brother? My brother is not a US citizen and is living outside the US now but is there a legal course we can follow? This has been an excruciating experience for our family and any help is greatly appreciated.

comments

Want to comment? LOG IN or SIGN UP
TOP 34 Comments
  • Facebook nurfherder
    Get a lawyer in disability law and sue this guy's ass, and the school. Unless your brother's mental health condition was something toxic like borderline, it was not a legitimate reason for getting kicked out, and was probably exacerbated by the working conditions and how the professor runs his lab.

    There is too little accountability for professors like this and legal action is probably the only thing that will ever set a standard for how mental health issues among grad students are dealt with in high stress disciplines.
    Jul 11 3
    • Apple pandas_df
      OP
      The condition was definitely not toxic. He was a great student. His grades were perfect, his research was going great, he was very punctual and never created any trouble. The illness started almost overnight and he was in the hospital before anyone knew.

      Suing the prof is one option but I am afraid that would be too harsh on him (I understand what he did was pretty scummy but he might lose his job and the other students under him will also suffer). Is there a way I can get the university to pay?
      Jul 11
    • Splunk jongyanhs
      Any lawsuits will involve the professor. It is just a matter do you want to sue or not.
      Jul 11
    • Facebook nurfherder
      He likely won't lose his job, unless he flagrantly violated University policies (in which case he deserves to be fired). He has tenure, and is probably working within the scope of his employment role, so he'll be fine.

      The lack of policies by the university is the real culprit, and any liability of his that is within the scope of his employment will likely be shouldered by the school when all is said and done. But like the other comment said the professor would still be named in the suit.
      Jul 11
  • Intel leedle
    What school
    Jul 11 0
  • Indeed / Eng indeeedd
    Such a tough situation. On the one hand i do feel he was discriminated, but on the other hand I saw a lot of people with depression during my phd and I was also barely able to handle the stress. The suicide rates of people doing phds are huge (google it) and in many cases the amount of pressure does not justify the potential gains.
    Jul 11 2
    • Apple pandas_df
      OP
      That’s what I used to think until I framed it this way: yes a PhD may be stressful but is that sufficient grounds for an advisor to terminate a student based on his own judgment and not on that of a mental health professional?
      Jul 11
    • Indeed / Eng indeeedd
      That's a great point. It is not for the advisor to tell.
      Jul 11
  • Deloitte / Consultant Gfes23
    Get legal advise. This could be a landmark case and set precedent against disability discrimination.
    Jul 11 1
    • Really? There has already been cases on ada for bipolar, just google it.
      Jul 11
  • If he is a physical risk to others then termination is justified.
    Jul 11 1
    • Apple pandas_df
      OP
      He was not a physical risk atleast according to the doctors.
      Jul 11
  • Salesforce worker3859
    Call at least one lawyer and ask them. They won't charge for it. Do not ask for legal advice online, people very often give bad advice but write like they know what they're talking about. I will say that firing someone for a disability, without at least a plausible cover reason, is usually illegal. They have to make reasonable accommodations. But don't listen to me. CALL A LAWYER.
    Jul 11 0
  • Salesforce 🙏 namaste
    What are you hoping to gain by pursuing legal actions?

    afaik, legally the professor cant fired him. The right course of action would have him giving your brother disability leave under FMLA (google this). Unsure if the same applies to legal immigrants but that’s how it’s supposed to work for citizens at least.
    Jul 11 0
  • Facebook realzuck
    Dude think about if u were the professor. Would u want to work with an unstable crazy person? If I were the professor I would never put me or my family at risk by continuing to employ this guy.
    Jul 12 4
    • Apple pandas_df
      OP
      It’s thinking like this that maintains and propagates stigma against mental illness. Mentally ill people are much more likely to be victims of crime rather than the perpetrators. By not giving someone a chance to see if they can cope with their mental illness and balance their work and firing them solely based on an amateur opinion that they are unstable and crazy is a very inhumane thing to do and is grounds for legal action.

      How would you feel if you get cancer and Facebook fires you because your manager thinks that since cancer is a taxing disease, you will be unable to perform on your job, without giving you a chance and without taking any medical opinion? The statement you make is basically as ridiculous and hurtful as that.
      Jul 12
    • Facebook realzuck
      That’s bullshit most murderers have a mental illness.
      Jul 12
    • Salesforce worker3859
      Even if it were true that most murders had mental illness, that would not mean that most people with mental illness are murders (the implication you probably meant to convey). They are much more likely to be victims than perps. Learn about 1-way functions, distros, logic, and stats. It will help your career. I wouldn't recommend someone of such ignorance and prejudice.
      Jul 12
    • Facebook winners
      Dude I had a mental illness and wouldn’t have hired myself anywhere. But I fixed myself and now I’m at fb. It’s just how it is. You can’t expect everyone to bend over backwards for people with mental illnesses. I would never hired old me, or someone like that. In this day and age there’s too many crazy people that might go off the rails. I wouldn’t take that risk for myself or that family. There’s plenty of stable people in the world that I rather work with. Work is hard enough as it is.
      Jul 13
  • Comcast dontdie
    Very sorry to hear this. Your brother should probably not live away from family. PhD is stressful even for students with perfect mental health. He needs a strong support support system (family, friends, girlfriend) around himself.

    Never fuck with mental health, in the long run career and education isn’t that important! Source: Went to a top school famous for PhD students killing themselves :(
    Jul 11 1
    • New / Finance msWc85
      Yeah it’s important. Stay healthy mind body and soul. You think you’re not doing well, until you don’t have your health.
      Jul 30
  • Walmart.com BqcQ58
    Sad to hear this, I hope you get proper guidance!
    Jul 11 0
  • Sorry to hear that. The advisor can choose to keep whoever they see fit. I hope your brother was given enough time to move out of the program. I wonder if it isbpossible tonfreeze the student status and go back in in the future.
    Jul 11 3
    • Facebook nurfherder
      The adviser can't violate the ADA if the program receives any federal funds at all, such as research grants. There is legal precedent for this.
      Jul 11
    • hmm didn't think of that. I don't know if ADA applies here. But I've heard similar stories from top schools. I don't think this guy is the first.
      Jul 11
    • Facebook nurfherder
      He's definitely not the first, this is a huge problem
      Jul 11
  • Intel leedle
    The professor did it due to past experience...didn’t you say that?
    Jul 12 2
    • Apple pandas_df
      OP
      Yes?
      Jul 12
    • Intel leedle
      The last person must have left a really bad impression. I think the decision was based on that
      Jul 12
  • Microsoft OqXc44
    You realize that professor could have allowed to continue just few more months and fail him on qualifying exam. Unfortunate, but there is no way you can win.
    Jul 11 1
    • Apple pandas_df
      OP
      It’s not about winning in the sense that he should be allowed to do the PhD. I am more interested in suing.
      Jul 11
  • New OUSD82
    Why could not he get a job in his home country?
    Jul 11 1
    • Apple pandas_df
      OP
      His PhD is in a niche engineering field and our family lives in a small town. No one needs his skills there.
      Jul 11
  • New sfrL57
    Talk to a lawyer, don’t listen to anybody else other than a lawyer.

    As an ex graduate student I can say PhDs are tough especially in the field of science, and even more if you have an ass hole of a supervisor. Pick who you work with VERY CAREFULLY!!

    Most of the time is the lack of time to socialize and do other activities that take your mind away from the hard work. Make sure you eat healthy, exercise every day, and socialize, if you are away from home, call, FaceTime whatever.
    Jul 22 0