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Worker with celiac disease wins retrial against staffing firm

Worker with celiac disease wins retrial against staffing firm

A federal appeals court has remanded for another trial a case in which a terminated employee claimed a staffing company had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by not accommodating her celiac disease.

Laurie Peterson, who suffers from the digestive and autoimmune disorder, was a staffing supervisor for Troy, Michigan-based Kelly Services Inc. until her termination in January 2014, according to court papers in Laurie Peterson v. Kelly Services Inc.

Ms. Peterson served as interim district manager in fall 2013 while Kelly Services searched for a new district manager. On her first day of work, the new district manager learned Ms. Peterson suffers from celiac disease, and began treating her differently than other employees, including changing her work schedule, according to the complaint in the case.

This allegedly caused Ms. Peterson stress and anxiety, which aggravated her celiac-related condition. Ms. Peterson asked as an accommodation that she return to her previous shift of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

The district manager instructed Ms. Peterson to take unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act instead of seeking an accommodation, according to the complaint. Ms. Peterson and the supervisor were subsequently terminated.

Ms. Peterson filed suit against Kelly in U.S. District Court in Spokane, Washington, charging failure to accommodate, discrimination and retaliation under the ADA. 

In a partial summary judgment, the court granted Kelly’s motion on Ms. Peterson’s claims that the company had failed to accommodate her celiac disease and had terminated her in retaliation for protected activity, but permitted other related charges in the case to proceed. A jury later decided Kelly had not retaliated against Ms. Peterson.

On appeal, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously reversed the district court’s ruling in Tuesday’s decision.  The district court “failed to construe the facts in the light most favorable to Peterson as the non-moving party as required on summary judgment,” said the ruling.

The district supervisor’s testimony “is direct evidence of retaliatory intent,” said the ruling. “Very little direct evidence creates a triable issue as to an employer’s actual motivation.” 

The supervisor’s declaration “also raises a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Kelly Services engaged in the interactive process in good faith,” said the ruling, in reversing the lower court and remanding for trial the claims decided on summary judgment.





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