A recent case pitting a Tennessee bank teller against her former employer resulted in a judgment in favor of the bank and a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding the lower court’s ruling. The bank teller’s lupus required her to miss long stretches of work, and these prolonged absences allowed the bank to terminate her employment without violating either the Family and Medical Leave Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act, since the job that the woman had at the bank required regular attendance.
The employee in the case, Dianne Boileau, was hired by GreenBank in 2007 to be the head teller at its branch in White House, Tennessee. By 2011, the teller started requiring extended absences from work as a result of her having the disease of lupus. She missed most of May 2011 — taking FMLA leave for this absence — due to a surgery that was intended to lessen the complicating effects of the disease. She had several more absences, intermittently occurring throughout the remainder of 2011.
By January 2012, she took another period of FMLA leave, stating that she intended to return to work by the middle of the month. Her doctors postponed her return on several occasions, with the last one stating that Boileau would need to be out until April 2. However, since the employee had exhausted her FMLA leave by March (and was still unable to restart working), the bank elected to terminated Boileau.
The teller responded by suing Capital Bank, which had purchased GreenBank in September 2011. She accused the bank of violating both the FMLA and the ADA. The trial court granted a request by the bank and issued a summary judgment in its favor, concluding that the teller could not possibly win her case on either ground. Boileau appealed but was again unsuccessful.
The key part of the case that led to the bank’s ultimate success on both the FMLA and ADA claims was Boileau’s inability to attend work on a regular basis. When an employee asserts an FMLA retaliation claim (as Boileau did), she has to prove that her case meets all of the elements of FMLA discrimination. If she does, the burden of proof shifts, and the law requires the employer to produce a valid, non-discriminatory reason for its action. The employee must, in order to win, then prove that the reason the employer gave was nothing but a pretext for its real reason, which was discrimination. In Boileau’s case, the employer offered as its non-discriminatory reason the facts that Boileau’s job required regular attendance and that Boileau was not able to attend work even after she ran out of FMLA leave.
An interesting part of the Sixth Circuit’s decision on the FMLA claim was its discussion of the bank’s failure to notify Boileau that she was on the verge of exhausting her FMLA leave. She claimed that this proved that the bank had violated the law. The court rejected this argument, pointing out that the FMLA does not impose upon employers an obligation to warn employees when their FMLA leave is about to run out.
The attendance issue also defeated Boileau’s ADA claim. In order to win an ADA claim, an employee must prove that she is qualified for the job at issue in the case. One of the “essential job functions” of the head teller job at the bank was regular attendance at the physical branch location. Due to her lupus, Boileau was unable to perform this function, which meant she wasn’t qualified for the job, and the bank was not in violation of the ADA for refusing to accommodate her and instead terminating her.
Tennessee employers should be aware that there are several situations in which they must accommodate employees with diseases and other disabilities, but there are also many other circumstances in which the law may say that the employer can take an adverse action against an employee with a disability, including termination, without violating any laws. For advice and representation upon which you can rely when litigating a disability discrimination issue, contact the diligent Tennessee disability discrimination attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert. Our attorneys have many years of experience helping others in your circumstances and have the resources and abilities to aid you too.
To speak with one of our lawyers about your case, call 404-873-8048.
More blog posts:
Sixth Circuit Rules Against Employee in FMLA Case Due to Absence of Damages, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, July 27, 2016
Sixth Circuit Upholds Ruling for Employer in FMLA, Pregnancy Discrimination Dispute, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Oct. 28, 2015