© Copyright ClearPath Benefits

Employee Terminated upon Return to Work After Alcohol Treatment Could Proceed with Claims against Employer

Original post ubabenefits.com

An employee terminated immediately upon his return from medical leave for alcohol rehabilitation presented sufficient evidence of discrimination under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Ohio state law to present his case to a jury, according to a federal court in Ohio. The employer claimed that the employee had been terminated for misappropriating company goods, but email exchanges between several supervisors discussing the plaintiff’s alcoholism, as well as the timing of his termination, could show pretext. Lankford v. Reladyne, LLC, 32 AD Cases 959 (S.D. Ohio Nov. 19, 2015)

The plaintiff was a sales representative for the defendants, who provide motor supplies to car dealerships. On January 28, 2014, the plaintiff requested FMLA leave to attend an alcohol rehabilitation program. Shortly before the plaintiff requested leave, one of the defendants’ employees informed them that the plaintiff had given free supplies to a customer in exchange for a free oil change given to the plaintiff’s mother. On February 4, 2014, seven days after the plaintiff requested leave, the defendants investigated the incident and it was determined that a meeting with the plaintiff was necessary upon his return to work. At the meeting, the plaintiff denied any knowledge of how his mother came into possession of the coupons used for her free oil exchange. The defendants nevertheless terminated the plaintiff, who subsequently brought suit for disability discrimination, unlawful FMLA interference and unlawful retaliation.

The defendants moved for summary judgment on each of the plaintiff’s claims, arguing they legitimately and non-discriminatorily terminated the plaintiff due to his misappropriation of company supplies. The Court rejected the defendants’ arguments, holding that the plaintiff produced sufficient circumstantial evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude the defendants’ offered justification for the plaintiff’s termination was merely pretext. Among other things, the Court pointed to an email in which the defendants’ Vice President of Sales and Marketing, stated “we have too many signs to ignore and not proactively address,” after learning of the plaintiff’s request for leave. In another statement, this VP also said “[the oil change] was not the only reason [Plaintiff] was fired.” The plaintiff had received overwhelmingly positive reviews just six weeks earlier. Relying on these facts as well as the temporal proximity between the plaintiff’s medical leave and his termination, the Court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.