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Bronx War Veteran Says Verizon Fired Him to Avoid Dealing With PTSD: Suit

By Eddie Small | July 21, 2015 2:56pm
 Roche served in the Marines from 1986 to 2011 and fought in Iraq from 2005 to 2006, according to the USMC.
Roche served in the Marines from 1986 to 2011 and fought in Iraq from 2005 to 2006, according to the USMC.
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Miguel Roche

THE BRONX — A war veteran fired from Verizon after losing his temper at work claims that the phone company used the argument as an excuse because they were tired of dealing with his PTSD, according to a lawsuit recently filed in Bronx Supreme Court.

Verizon fired Miguel Roche, 48, on Oct. 9, 2014, a few weeks after he told a coworker during a meeting at their Dyre Avenue office that he would "kick his ass," according to Roche and court papers.

Although Roche, of Wingdale, NY, who began working there in 1996, said the coworker had been antagonizing him and making his job difficult, he acknowledged that he had acted poorly at the meeting and expressed regret for how he handled himself.

"I said things that I shouldn't have, things that weren't professional," he said.

However, Roche and his lawyer Kelly Magnuson both maintain that the fight was not the real reason he was fired. Rather, it was just an excuse to let him go and no longer have to worry about the difficulties caused by his PTSD.

"This claim that they’ve terminated him because of an argument with a coworker is just a farce to get rid of him, which they wanted to do," Magnuson said.

Roche enlisted in the Marines Corps in 1986 and served in Operation Desert Storm from September 1990 to March 1991, according to the USMC. He was on reserve duty from 1994 to 1998 and from 2001 to 2011, and he was deployed in Iraq from June 2005 to February 2006, according to the Marines.

He received several awards for his service, including a Bronze Star and a Humanitarian Service Medal, but he had a difficult time readjusting to civilian life after returning from combat for the second time.

“He began to experience significant flashbacks, depression, isolation, anxiety, [and] anger related to his military service in 2005-2006,” his lawyer charged in court papers.

Roche was diagnosed with severe PTSD in 2008, according to the July 2 lawsuit, but he said he did not start seriously feeling the effects of the disorder at Verizon until a 2011 workers strike.

“During that strike, as management, I was working,” he said. “We were doing the technicians’ work in the field, and we were subject to constant harassment...”

Memories of being on patrol started coming back to him, as Roche felt that he had to constantly be on high alert, and he went out sick because of his PTSD issues for the first time that September, he said.

Roche had to take time off because of his PTSD in 2013 and 2014 as well, according to the lawsuit. He described his 2013 bout with the condition as particularly severe and a “really, really dark time” in his life.

“I did spend three days in the hospital,” he said. “I did have a suicide attempt. It wasn’t a good time.”

After his 2014 battle with PTSD, he returned to work with medical permission on June 16, the lawsuit says.

However, he soon found that Verizon did not seem very eager to have him come back.

His supervisor Daniel Olivette refused to let him go back to his regular duties as a manager, saying that his struggles with PTSD had created an administrative nightmare for the company, according to the lawsuit.

Instead, Olivette had him do clerical work, but the company never clearly defined what these responsibilities were supposed to entail, according to Magnuson.

“They put him inside and would not give him a team to work with and put him on clerical duties,” she said, “but they hadn’t even determined what they were, which is why there was a lot of friction.”

“He had me doing busy work,” Roche said.

The suit also claims that Olivette did not take Roche's issues with PTSD very seriously, calling out “Don’t slit your wrists” while Roche was on his way to a doctor’s appointment last summer.

"I have scars on my arm, and they’re visible," Roche said. "It’s not anything that I can hide when I’m wearing a short sleeve shirt."

Magnuson said Roche's firing amounted to disability discrimination and characterized the disagreement he had with his coworker as fairly typical for managers.

"It isn’t uncommon for people in management positions to have arguments you know?" she said. "This isn’t a group of priests. This is a group of people managing a significant number of people on long schedules, and people have debates."

Olivette could not be reached for comment.

Verizon spokesman Raymond McConville said he could not comment on the specifics of a pending lawsuit, but maintained that the company has a zero tolerance policy for any type of discrimination.

He also described Verizon as one of the country's top employers of veterans. Military Times named them as the best company for vets to work for in 2015, noting that they employ almost 13,000 of them.

"Our track record of being a great place to work for military service members and veterans speaks for itself," McConville said in an email.