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Court reinstates ADA claims made by fired UPS worker

Court reinstates ADA claims made by fired UPS worker

A federal appeals court has reinstated Americans With Disabilities Act claims filed by a fired 25-year United Parcel Service Inc. worker against the company, concluding there was “substantial circumstantial evidence” and “suspicious timing” surrounding her termination.

Linda Rowlands was initially fired by a unit of Atlanta-based UPS in July 2012 for allegedly changing the time on her time card, according to Friday’s ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago in Linda Rowlands v. United Parcel Service-Fort Wayne.

She was reinstated after she filed a union grievance and returned to work in September 2012, while still recovering from knee surgery. But her employee ID was never reactivated and “there were other signs that her days at UPS were numbered,” according to the ruling.

Among these, her union representative said her supervisors “put her, and only her, under a microscope and watched her constantly, even documenting when she went to the bathroom and for how long,” according to the ruling.

UPS “fired Rowlands for the second and final time on January 2, 2013,” allegedly for threatening another employee with a taser. Ms. Rowlands denied threatening the worker and said she had been using the taser after leaving work for 10 years because she walked “through a dark and desolate parking lot late at night.” Other employees also testified they had carried similar devices on a regular basis.

After her second firing, Ms. Rowlands filed suit against UPS in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne, Indiana, charging discrimination on the basis of her disability, failure to accommodate her disability and retaliation, all in violation of the ADA.

The district court granted UPS’s motion for summary judgment on all of Ms. Rowlands’ claims.  Ms. Rowlands appealed dismissal of her failure to accommodate and retaliation claims, which a unanimous three-judge panel reinstated.

On her failure to accommodate claim, the panel said, “Because Rowlands did not waive her failure to accommodate claim and questions of material fact remain as to whether Rowlands had a disability and to what extent she required accommodations, the district court erred in granting summary judgment to UPS on this claim.”

On Ms. Rowlands’ retaliation claim, the court held “there is substantial circumstantial evidence, aside from suspicious timing, that would allow a reasonable juror to infer that UPS’s reason for firing Rowlands was pretextual.”

The several reasons cited by the court included her employee ID was not reinstated, she was “put under a microscope,” she was repeatedly rebuffed by her supervisor in attempting to discuss her limitations, her boss complained she was a “constant pain in my butt,” she was prohibited from moving her car closer to the building during her breaks, she was denied access to the first-floor bathroom despite her knee injuries, and the employee whom she allegedly threatened also violated the company policy  when he threatened the union representative but suffered no adverse reaction.

The case was remanded for further proceedings.

In 2016, UPS said it was considering whether to appeal a $5.3 million award given by a Lexington, Kentucky, jury to eight black men who had charged the Atlanta-based firm with a hostile work environment.





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