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ADA suit reinstated for fired postpartum depressed worker


A federal appeals court has reinstated in a divided opinion an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit filed by a woman who was terminated after she sought extended leave because of her postpartum depression.

Kelly Blanchet, who had been hired as a direct sales representative for Stamford, Connecticut-based Charter Communications LLC, took standard maternity leave, short-term disability benefits and Family and Medical Leave Act benefits when she became pregnant, and gave birth in July 2016, according to Tuesday’s ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati in Kelly Blanchet v. Charter Communications LLC.

She developed postpartum depression, and sought and was approved for extended FMLA leave, short-term disability leave and long-term disability leave that extended through Feb. 1, 2017, according to the ruling. She then sought additional leave.

Her doctor sent a letter stating she should be expected to return to work in April 2017. Ms. Blanchet was notified in March 2017 that she was terminated effective January 2017.

She filed suit against the company in U.S. District Court in Covington, Kentucky, charging violation of the ADA, and the court granted Charter summary judgment dismissing the case.

“The issue at the heart of this case is whether the leave Blanchet requested was a reasonable accommodation for her disability, and thus whether her firing was lawful,” the two judges of the three-judge panel said in their ruling.

“Charter argues that Blanchet could not perform any of her essential job function ‘as of the date of her termination, including attending work’ and that she was not medically released to return to work,” to which the district court agreed, the ruling said.

However, “A reasonable juror could find that Blanchet would be otherwise qualified for her job after her medical leave accommodation,” the ruling said.

“At the time Blanchet requested her accommodation, Charter had no reason to conclude that Blanchet’s performance would deteriorate when she came back on her proposed return date,” it said, in reversing the lower court and remanding the case for further proceedings.

The dissenting opinion said, “The outcome of this case turns upon whether Kelly Blanchet was a ‘qualified individual’ under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“An employee is deemed qualified only if she can perform all the essential functions of her job, with or without accommodation…Blanchet did not meet that definition here.”

Attorneys in the case did not respond to requests for comment.

In February, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said a fabrication company would pay $250,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit in which it was charged under the ADA with firing a depressed worker.







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