Fired worker’s ADA retaliation claim not supported by evidence

A part-time employee argued she was terminated in retaliation for requesting a reasonable accommodation for her disability, but the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found the evidence she provided to support her claim would not convince a reasonable juror.

Suzanne Parker worked as a part-time as a receptionist and administrative assistant for Brooks Life Science, Inc. She was hired in 2017 and cycled through several supervisors, getting mixed feedback on her performance.

When Gillian Williams became supervisor, she praised Parker’s hard work and flexibility but told Parker to follow the company’s part-time off policy. Brooks required employees to get prior approval for planned time off and to enter the PTO hours they used into the company’s payroll system.

On multiple occasions, Parker was told she had violated policy by taking unapproved time off and altering her schedule without approval. Brooks ended up terminating Parker for failing to follow policy.

Parker sued, alleging she was discriminated and retaliated against because of her race and disability. She is an African American woman who has multiple sclerosis and sciatica for which she has received Social Security disability benefits since about 2005.

After the Southern Indiana District Court granted summary judgment to Brooks, Parker appealed, challenging only the ruling on her retaliation claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.

She argued, in part, that the company’s stated reason for firing her was just a pretext for not wanting to accommodate her disability. As evidence, she pointed to three emails which she described as showing Williams shifted her attitude toward PTO.

However, where Parker asserted Brooks did not always require strict adherence to PTO rules, 7th Circuit found Williams’ approval and disapproval of Parker’s PTO requests were consistent with company policy.

“Overall, our key inquiry is ‘whether the evidence would permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that [Parker’s] requests for accommodations caused the discharge,’” Flaum wrote, citing Rowlands v. United Parcel Serv.-Fort Wayne, 901 F.3d at 801 (7th Cir. 2018)  (quoting Ortiz v. Werner Enters., Inc., 834 F.3d at 765 (7th Cir. 2016)). “This district court correctly determined that evidence in this case would not a reasonable factfinder to so conclude.”

The case is Suzanne Parker v. Brooks Life Science, Inc., 21-2415.

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