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IBM found guilty of job discrimination in Shanghai
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A labor arbitrator in Shanghai has ordered global computer giant IBM to pay 57,000 yuan ($8,300) in compensation to an employee who was fired earlier this year, after being diagnosed as suffering from depression.

The labor dispute arbitration committee of Pudong New Area on Wednesday also ordered the US firm to reactivate its five-year labor contract with Yuan Yipeng, who in January attempted suicide due to his mental state.

While the case is the first involving job discrimination on the grounds of mental illness, it comes amid growing calls for better protection in the workplace for those with physical disabilities.

There have been several calls for an anti-discrimination law to provide people with physical disabilities or illnesses, especially the country's 93 million hepatitis B carriers, with a legal framework to combat discrimination in the jobs market.

Yuan joined IBM Shanghai as an R&D engineer in June 2006, after graduating from university.

"I felt like a fish in water, and was glad to work with people who shared my ideas. I was willing to work overtime," the 26-year-old said on Monday.

But in March of last year, Yuan began to develop symptoms of depression.

"At first, I just felt very tired and melancholic, even when I had had a good sleep the night before," he said.

His condition worsened and in June of last year, Yuan offered to resign. However, rather than accept his resignation, his employer granted him a period of sick leave.

In August, Yuan said his condition had improved and he wanted to return to work. The Shanghai Mental Health Center, which had assessed his condition, said he was fit to do so, but would require regular treatment. IBM, however, refused to allow him to return.

In February of this year, the computer firm fired Yuan on grounds he had violated company rules. On March 7, Yuan took IBM to arbitration claiming unfair dismissal.

Chen Qingguang, Yuan's lawyer, said the hearing concentrated on whether or not IBM had acted illegally. Since the ruling, the firm has declined to comment and its lawyer could not be reached yesterday. Chen said it has not filed an appeal. Yuan, however, said he is yet to receive his money or notification from IBM of when he can return to work.

Lu Jun, an activist working for the rights of people with physical and mental disabilities, said the case was a step in the right direction in combating discrimination.

But more laws are needed to eradicate such practices and ensure social justice, he said.

(China Daily June 24, 2008)

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