The Significance of Summary Judgments in Your Georgia Employment Discrimination Case

After you’ve suffered discrimination at work and determined that a discrimination lawsuit is necessary, there are several essential hurdles you need to clear. One of the biggest ones is defeating your employer’s motion for summary judgment. Whether you’re before, at, or past the summary judgment stage in your case, representation from the right Atlanta workplace discrimination lawyer can be crucial to your success.

Take, for example, disability discrimination plaintiff C.G., who worked as an “Inclusion Specialist” at a Cobb County preschool for children with special needs.

C.G.’s problems arose abruptly when she experienced numerous seizures/neurologic episodes on Dec. 13-14, 2018. By Dec. 20, she was ready to return to work. On Dec. 21, however, the employer convened a meeting with C.G. and the executive director told C.G. and her husband that the school “was going to treat C.G. as if she had suffered seizures that could reoccur so it could not allow her to return to any classroom due to liability risk and exposure to [the school] in case she injured herself, a co-worker, or a student while working.”

On Jan. 3, the employer emailed C.G. to request that she “obtain a release from her physician to return to work with or without restrictions.” The woman did not procure the release, instead of replying that the school had already fired her.

After that, C.G. sued the school in federal court for disability discrimination in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The school asked the court to throw out the lawsuit, arguing that it never fired C.G. and, as a result, she had no case. The court, however, rejected the employer’s motion.

This outcome makes for a strong lesson when it comes to defeating a motion for summary judgment launched by the defense. A summary judgment in favor of the defense means that there is no possible set of facts that could lead to a plaintiff’s judgment, so the court throws out your case before it ever gets to trial.

Defeating a Defense Motion for Summary Judgment May Open Many Doors

Why is that so important? Actually, there are several reasons. The first is that defeating a defense motion for summary judgment is often a gateway to being able to put your case before a jury. The second (and related) reason is something relevant to you if you’re open to resolving your case via a settlement. Your employer probably will not begin making fair settlement offers (or genuinely listening to your fair settlement offers) until you have defeated their motion for summary judgment. A defendant’s willingness to negotiate meaningfully and realistically often tends to occur after this event and not before.

A summary judgment is sometimes called a “judgment as a matter of law.” If the key things in question are factual disputes, then that’s the kind of case that isn’t appropriate for resolution through summary judgment. That means that, if your employer tries such a maneuver, you can defeat that motion and get your day in court.

That’s what happened in C.G.’s case. The employer’s arguments in support of its summary judgment motion focused solely on whether it had or had not actually terminated C.G. A dispute like that is a classic example of a factual dispute as opposed to a question of law. There are many different ways that a person can be fired. There’s the letter of termination or there’s the Apprentice-style “You’re fired!” There’s also, though, something called a “constructive discharge” where the law considers you to have been fired even without any express verbal or written notice of that termination. These issues are often fact-intensive matters.

This was one of those fact-focused times, which meant C.G.’s employer wasn’t entitled to summary judgment and C.G. was free to continue proceeding to trial with her case.

If you have been fired or otherwise treated unfavorably because of your disability, your employer may have violated the law and that may permit you to win a civil judgment. Get in touch with the Atlanta disability discrimination attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert. Our firm has spent many years helping workers with disabilities, and we’re ready to get to work for you. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation today.

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