Robert Carlin loved his job as a federal public defender for the Western District of North Carolina, but he says discrimination left him with no choice but to sue.
Carlin says he was fired over caregiver issues relating to his autistic son.
"You can't disfavor or maltreat someone because they have a kid or spouse with special needs," said Carlin from his new home in California.
WBTV attempted to get a response from the Federal Defenders of North Carolina, but we have not received a statement as of publication.
Carlin's world changed dramatically three years ago when his wife died. He was left to care for three small children, including Luke, who lives with autism.
"It's rough, it's rough," said Carlin talking about the financial toll it took when he got fired and the need to find special services for his son.
The lawsuit says Carlin took a leave of absence to deal with his depression and care giving issues. Almost immediately he says he felt singled out and pressured to return by his supervisor.
Carlin's attorney is Josh Van Kampen, who says parents of autistic children need special protections, too. He says Carlin's treatment is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Public Policy of North Carolina.
"I think it's pretty telling as the lawsuit alleges, they replaced him on leave, " said Van Kampen talking about Carlin's employer. "They had their mind made up already," he said.
Employment law professor Brian Clarke with the Charlotte School of Law says the employer did have an obligation to make reasonable accommodations. However, when it comes to caregivers, Clarke says the law is loosely defined.
"The way the litigation works, the employer must establish a non-discriminatory reason for whatever happened as well," said Clarke. Federal law does not prohibit discrimination against caregivers, but it does say disparate treatment can be unlawful.
Carlin says he was never given a reason for termination. "The one thing they said was that it has nothing to do with the quality of your work."
He says the office first offered him a transfer across the country, which Carlin refused. He said it would put his family in an upheaval all over again.
He was also offered the chance to resign with severance pay, which Carlin also says he declined.
He says it's been a difficult and frustration experience. Under the law, children like Luke are protected. They have certain rights.
Carlin says as Luke's main caregiver, his rights need better protection too.