Disability Discrimination: Plaintiff’s Alcohol-Related Disability Claims under the ADA and PHRA Proceed to Trial

In Diaz v. Saucon Valley Manor, Inc., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29926 (E. D. Pa. March 5, 2013) (Rice, M. J.), the Plaintiff alleged her employment was terminated because she suffers from an alcohol-related disability and because she requested a reasonable accommodation to attend an inpatient treatment program. Defendants moved for summary judgment contending Plaintiff’s disability claims should be dismissed because there is no evidence showing that Defendant treated “similarly situated” employees differently.

In Diaz, the Court relied upon Third Circuit precedent in Matczak v. Frankford Candy & Choc. Co., 136 F.3d 933, 939 (3d Cir. 1997), holding that evidence of favorable treatment outside the protected class is not an element of a prima facie case and Plaintiff need only show that adverse employment actions occurred under circumstances that give rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination, which can be established by any evidence tending to show that Plaintiff’s disability was a determinative factor in the decision to terminate employment.

The Court was persuaded that Plaintiff’s disability could be a determinative factor because the evidence showed Plaintiff’ supervisors knew of her alcoholism, Plaintiff was an “excellent” employee as demonstrated shown by performance evaluations, Plaintiff requested a day off for a court hearing and medical leave for inpatient treatment, and the day after the court hearing, when Plaintiff informed her supervisor that her inpatient treatment would begin the next day, Plaintiff was advised her employment was terminated. Given these facts the Court held that a jury could reasonably infer that Defendant terminated Plaintiff because of her alcohol-related disability, thereby establishing a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA and PHRA. The Court then found that Defendant’s asserted legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for terminating Plaintiff’s employment: (1) her arrest for public drunkenness, (2) failure to show up for work, and (3) violation of policies; could be pretextual where there were disputed issues of fact as to whether Plaintiff’ termination was for the legitimate, non-discriminatory reason.

Diaz demonstrates the importance of two critical factors in cases where courts often deny summary judgment to employers. First, where an employee has an excellent performance record, attempts to engage in protected activity and is terminated, courts are reluctant to grant summary judgment. Second, where there is very close temporal proximity between a request for a disability accommodation and termination of employment courts are also very reluctant to grant summary judgment.

For more information on the Americans with Disabilities Act, Disability Discrimination and Abramson Employment Law see http://www.job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-1126511.html

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Filed under Americans with Disabilities Act - Disability Discrimination, Employment Law

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