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A former financial services worker who claimed her supervisor helped trigger her post-traumatic stress disorder won reinstatement of a Family Medical Leave Act retaliation charge, although a federal appeals court upheld dismissal of a disability discrimination charge.
Cindy Tinsley was hired by Nashville, Tennessee-based Caterpillar Financial Services Corp. in 1997 and promoted to a business system analyst position in October 2013, according to Wednesday’s ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati in Cindy Tinsley v. Caterpillar Financial Services Corp.
In 2015, after she took leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, Ms. Tinsley received a rating of “Did Not Meet Performance Expectations” following a formal mid-year review, according to the ruling. She later refused to sign a “performance improvement plan,” stating she disagreed with it.
Ms. Tinsley then sent two emails to Caterpillar’s human resources department, in one of which she complained about a hostile work environment “created by her co-workers’ horseplay (e.g. bouncing the stress balls off the ground),” said the ruling. Ms. Tinsley blamed her supervisor for permitting this.
Ms. Tinsley “began a practice of submitting doctor’s notes and successive requests for medical leave based on ‘mental and emotional duress brought on by an over-excessive workload, unrealistic deadlines, a hostile work environment and a manager’s reckless indifference to my mental and emotional well-being,’” according to the ruling.
The firm eventually provided her with a total of 18 weeks of FMLA leave, according to the ruling. She retired after the company denied her requests for additional leave or a new supervisor.
Ms. Tinsley then filed suit in U.S. District Court in Nashville, alleging Caterpillar had violated the American with Disabilities Act by not providing her with reasonable accommodations and had retaliated against her for making an FMLA claim. The U.S. District Court granted Caterpillar summary judgment dismissing both claims.
A unanimous three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit upheld the ADA charge’s dismissal. The evidence demonstrates Ms. Tinsley’s alleged post-traumatic stress disorder did not sufficiently limit “her ability to perform a class of jobs or a broad range of jobs,” said the ruling.
“The clearest example of this is when Tinsley told Human Resources that she would be able to continue in the same position as long as she was under the direction of a different supervisor because her disability was triggered by” the way her supervisor managed “with all the ball bouncing,” according to the ruling.
The ruling, however, reinstated Ms. Tinsley’s FMLA retaliation charge. It said she had succeeded in making the prima facie case of availing herself of a protected right under the FMLA; being adversely affected by an employment decision; and establishing a causal connection between the exercise of the right and the adverse employment decision.
“When a plaintiff makes her prima facie showing, the defendant must respond by clearly articulating a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action … Caterpillar has not addressed this issue in its appellate briefing,” said the panel, in remanding the issue to the District Court.
Caterpillar’s attorney had no comment, while Ms. Tinsley’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
In September, a federal appeals court reinstated FMLA interference and retaliation charges filed by a former customer service representative at a furniture rental retailer because her hours were cut immediately after she returned from FMLA leave.
Some employers have gotten themselves into legal trouble with the Family and Medical Leave Act.