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A federal appeals court has reinstated a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by a fired nurse who said she was terminated because she was perceived to be disabled when in fact she was not.
Nurse anesthesiologist Paula E. Babb contended her former employer, Maryville, Tennessee-based Maryville Anesthesiologists P.C., “fired her because it thought she was visually disabled, even though, in reality, she is not visually disabled,” said Wednesday’s ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati in Paula E. Babb v. Maryville Anesthesiologists P.C.
“Maryville Anesthesiologists wholeheartedly disagrees, and asserts it fired Babb, not because of any visual disability (whether or not), but rather, because Babb committed two ‘clinical errors’ that placed her patients at grave risk of injury,” according to the ruling.
The ruling said among the factors Ms. Babb contended led to her termination is that one of Maryville’s physician-owners observing her “place her face very close to a computer screen.”
Ms. Babb said she explained while she has an eye condition it merely means she needs to hold written records close to her eyes, and does not inhibit her ability to read medical records or perform anesthesiology.
After her termination, Ms. Babb filed suit in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, Tennessee, charging violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The court granted Maryville summary judgment in dismissing the case.
The ruling was overturned by a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel, which remanded the case for further proceedings.
“A genuine dispute of fact exists as to whether Maryville ‘regarded’ Babb as ‘disabled’ when it fired her in January 2016,” said the ruling.
“First, there is a factual dispute as to the reasonableness of Maryville’s decision to base Babb’s termination of the two ‘clinical errors,’” it said.
“Second, even if we accepted Maryville’s description of the magnitude of Babb’s clinical errors as the gospel truth, we would still be faced with an even more glaring factual dispute whether those clinical errors ‘actually motivated’ Maryville to fire Babb on January 13, 2016,” said the ruling, in concluding the case “must go before a jury.”
Maryville attorney Howard B. Jackson, a member of law firm Wimberly Lawson Wright Daves & Jones PLLC in Knoxville, said in a statement, “I am of course disappointed. But the case remains pending so I do not think it would be appropriate to offer substantive comment.”
Ms. Babb’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
A federal appeals court has punted the issue of whether morbid obesity per se is a protected disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but it may only be a matter of time before a federal circuit court says it is, many experts say.