Ohio Employee Terminated Upon Return to Work After Alcohol Treatment Could Proceed With Claims Against Employer
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, Americans with Disabilities Act 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 e-mail exchanges between several supervisors discussing 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).
Plaintiff was a sales representative for Defendants, who provide motor supplies to car dealerships. On January 28, 2014, Plaintiff requested FMLA leave to attend an alcohol rehabilitation program. Shortly before Plaintiff requested leave, one of Defendants’ employees informed them that Plaintiff had given free supplies to a customer in exchange for a free oil change given to Plaintiff’s mother. On February 4, 2014, seven days after Plaintiff requested leave, Defendants investigated the incident and it was determined a meeting with Plaintiff was necessary upon his return to work. At the meeting, Plaintiff denied any knowledge of how his mother came into possession of the coupons used for her free oil exchange. Defendants nevertheless terminated Plaintiff, who subsequently brought suit for disability discrimination, unlawful FMLA interference and unlawful retaliation.
Defendants moved for summary judgment on each of Plaintiff’s claims, arguing they legitimately and non-discriminatorily terminated Plaintiff due to his misappropriation of company supplies. The Court rejected Defendants’ arguments, holding that Plaintiff produced sufficient circumstantial evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude Defendants’ offered justification for Plaintiff’s termination was merely pretext. Among other things, the Court pointed to an email in which Defendants’ Vice President of Sales and Marketing, stated “we have too many signs to ignore and not proactively address,” after learning of Plaintiff’s request for leave. In another statement, this VP also said “[the oil change] was not the only reason [Plaintiff] was fired.” Plaintiff had received overwhelmingly positive reviews just six weeks earlier. Relying on these facts as well as the temporal proximity between Plaintiffs medical leave and his termination, the Court denied Defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
This article was written by James Meehan.