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Injured Wal-Mart worker can pursue retaliation claim: Appeals court


PORTLAND, Ore.—A woman can proceed with a lawsuit alleging that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and retaliated against her for demanding her workers compensation rights, a federal appeals court has ruled in a split decision.

Wednesday's ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Heidi M. Cox vs. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. overturned a district court ruling that had granted Wal-Mart summary judgment in the case involving the Oregon employee who was injured in a fall.

Following the fall, Ms. Cox returned to work in May 2007 and Wal-Mart afforded her several accommodations, court records state. But she alleges that Wal-Mart disciplined and fired her after she invoked her rights under Oregon's workers compensation law.

In granting summary judgment to the retailer, the district court found that Ms. Cox was not a “qualified individual” under the ADA and that Wal-Mart had met its burden of engaging in an interactive process of accommodation.

Appeals court disagrees

But in the 2-1 appeals court ruling, the majority disagreed on both matters. Among other issues, the majority found that a reasonable jury could conclude that Wal-Mart did not engage in the interactive accommodation process in good faith when it rejected her request for a deadline extension to return paperwork regarding her leave.

The panel also ruled that Ms. Cox provided evidence that when she invoked her rights under Oregon's workers comp law, Wal-Mart unjustifiably disciplined her three times—despite Wal-Mart finding her performance acceptable and making accommodations before she invoked her right.

Therefore, a reasonable jury could infer her termination was linked to invoking her workers comp rights, the majority ruled in remanding the case to the lower court.

In his partial dissent, 2nd Circuit Justice Ronald Gould said that by showing only that she was disciplined and terminated “after she asked about workers compensation,” Ms. Cox did not raise a “genuine issue of fact about a casual link between her invocation of the system and her termination.”