SUSPICIOUS TIMING CAN SUPPORT CLAIMS OF DISCRIMINATION AND RETALIATION SAYS COURT
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Anderson v. KAR Global, dba Adesa Missouri LLC) ruled in favor of an employee’s discrimination and retaliation claims, highlighting the significance of the short timeframe between the employee’s accommodation request and subsequent termination. The court concluded that the brief 10-day interval was sufficient to establish causation in the early stages of the claims.
The employee, an outside sales representative for a company specializing in auctioning used cars to auto dealerships, faced termination after the company merged its sales teams with another company’s under the same parent organization. The restructuring aimed to categorize sales representatives into distinct roles: hunters, who were primarily responsible for recruiting new business, and farmers, who were primarily managing existing accounts.
In the lead-up to the merger, the employee discussed his anticipated role with supervisors, who all indicated a hunter role for him. However, complications arose when the employee experienced a seizure and was medically advised not to drive for six months. Despite providing documentation stating he could perform all other job duties, the initially agreed-upon accommodation plan, involving working in the office three days a week and having a colleague drive him to appointments on the other two days, was abruptly discontinued after just one week.
The Vice President of Sales (VP) of the new company had identified this employee for termination as part of the merger. When the VP inquired with HR about the termination, HR advised that there may be an issue given that the employee had been a top performer and his supervisors had strongly advocated for the employee in establishing the accommodation plan. Nevertheless, the company terminated the employee, citing lack of a suitable hunter role and lower sales numbers in comparison to other employees.
The employee initiated legal action, alleging unlawful termination based on disability and retaliation for the accommodation request. The federal district court initially granted summary judgment in favor of the employer, contending that the employee failed to demonstrate a causal link between disability or accommodation request and termination.
However, the 8th Circuit, relying on established precedent, emphasized the critical role of temporal proximity in establishing a prima facie case of disability discrimination. Given the short 10-day time period between the VP learning of the accommodation request and the termination, the court deemed it sufficient to indicate causation in the initial stages of the claim.
Furthermore, the court agreed with the employee’s contention that the VP’s decision to terminate appeared linked to the medical restriction, with performance-related concerns emerging only retroactively to justify the decision. This led the court to conclude that genuine issues of material fact existed regarding whether the VP’s reasons for termination were pretextual.
NOTE: The 8th Circuit Court of Appeal covers the following states: Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. While this case isn’t dispositive for claims in Nevada, it does underscore the importance of timely and thorough examination of the circumstances surrounding termination, particularly in cases involving existing or requested accommodations.
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