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A federal appeals court on Friday overturned a lower court ruling and held that a temporary worker who was fired six days after suffering a diabetic attack can pursue her disability discrimination case.
Houston-based Apache Industrial Services Inc. hired Arlicia Gosby in March 2018 to work as scaffolding helper at an Exxon Mobil Corp. plant in Beaumont, Texas, according to the ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans in Arlicia Gosby v. Apache Industrial Services, Inc.
Ms. Gosby disclosed that she suffers from diabetes, a condition covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, but her doctor cleared her for work, the ruling said.
On April 26, she suffered a diabetic attack at work and was taken to the medical tent for treatment. Six days later, she was terminated with 11 other employees in a reduction in force.
Ms. Gosby filed suit against Apache in U.S. District Court in Beaumont, charging violation of the ADA. The court granted Apache summary judgment dismissing the case, and was overturned by a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel.
The appeals court ruling said it disagreed with the district court’s finding that Ms. Gosby had not established a prima facie case of discrimination because she had not demonstrated a causal link between her disability and termination.
“The proximity of her diabetic episode on the job and her termination was sufficient to constitute a prima facie case that she was included in the group to be terminated for ADA-violative reasons,” the ruling said.
The appeals panel also disagreed with the lower court as to whether Ms. Gosby had showed a pretext for her termination. The inconsistent explanations the company offered for inclusion in the layoffs, “and the absence of clear criteria” is evidence tending to show that Apache’s proffered explanation was false or “unworthy of credence,” the ruling said, in citing an earlier case, reversing the lower court and remanding the case for further proceedings.
Ms. Gosby’s attorney, James E. Sudduth II of Sudduth & Associates LLC, said in a statement he is pleased with the ruling and looks forward to a trial. “The 5th Circuit established, in a published opinion, that temporal proximity matters in the discrimination context as well as the retaliation context and also affirmatively established that temporal proximity continues to be a factor that should be considered by courts in determining both the prima facie case as well as in the pretext analysis, regardless of the length/duration of the job at issue. Finally, the 5th Circuit issued a reminder that the burden to meet a prima facie case is not an onerous one."
Apache’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated guidance on COVID-19 on Dec. 14 stating that some employees who have had the disease may be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Axios reports. Not everyone who tests positive will qualify and the EEOC said that employers must individually evaluate each employee to determine if they meet the requirements.