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Employee’s Utter Lack of Evidence Leads to Dismissal of All Claims

MSJs certainly aren't granted as much as they used to be, particularly in the employment context. In this case, however, the employee's failure to produce more than a scintilla of evidence in support of her claims led to a successful MSJ for the individual and entity employer defendants.

A former purchasing officer had hypertension, mental illness, spinal arthritis, and osteoarthritis. She sought an adjusted work schedule, an office to accommodate her wheelchair, a closer parking space, and the ability to wear sneakers. She claims she was denied these accommodations, was referred to as a “cripple” and “hopalong,” received a five percent salary reduction and was later terminated from her position. She claims that her salary reduction and termination were the result of taking leave, requesting accommodations, and filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She further contended that she was deprived of three days of FMLA leave. She filed suit against her employer and various individual defendants.

The defendants argued that the employee lacked the necessary evidence to meet her burden of establishing discrimination, failure to accommodate, or retaliation. The defendants also argued that the individual claims were barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity, and that her claims for reinstatement and/or front pay were barred because she applied for Social Security Disability, attesting that she was totally disabled and thus, unable to work. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants and the employee appealed.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. The Court found that the employee simply failed to present sufficient evidence to meet her burden of demonstrating that her leave was reduced, that she was denied an accommodation, or that the reasons for the salary reduction and/or termination were merely pretexts for retaliation or discrimination. The employee lacked evidence to establish that her physical or mental conditions were severe, long-term or permanent, or that her difficulties walking, sitting, standing, or concentrating were any more difficult than similar afflictions suffered by most adults. Thus, the Court concluded that she could not prove she was disabled. Ultimately, the Court concluded over and over again that a mere "scintilla of evidence" was insufficient for the employee to meet her burden under the summary judgment burden-shifting scheme. Since that's all this employee had to offer, her claims failed.

Defending discrimination suits is always a fact-specific endeavor, and varies state-by-state. In this case, the employer, fortunately, prevailed due to the employee’s failure to produce sufficient evidence. Having the right policies in place and documenting key events can go a long way toward preventing and defending against such claims.

For more information read Gilliard v. Georgia Dept. of Corrections, No. 12-11751 (11th Cir., December 7, 2012).

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