8th Circuit Affirms Cooperative Response Center Did Not Violate ADA, FMLA by Firing Employee

The Eighth Circuit on Tuesday affirmed summary judgment for Cooperative Response Center Inc. (CRC), the defendant in a case brought by a former employee who alleged that she was terminated in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Previously, the District of Minnesota granted summary judgment to CRC, a security and medical alarm services company, dismissing all the claims by plaintiff Tori Evans. Reportedly, Evans argued not only that CRC’s termination of her was in violation of the ADA, but that the company’s reasoning for terminating her — that she violated the employer’s attendance policy — was a pretext for disability discrimination. The district court sided with CRC, finding that its attendance policy clearly articulates what it expects of employees — and Evans’ attendance did not meet the standard.

Because of a chronic health condition, Evans had FMLA-approved time off each month, but was told that “absences above and beyond the FMLA approved frequency” would count toward generation of “points,” which represent unexcused, FMLA-ineligible absences, the court explained. If an employee receives 10 points in a rolling 12-month duration, termination is warranted, according to CRC. The court recounted that Evans used FMLA-approved leave intermittently, while also racking up 11 “point-bearing absences,” eventually resulting in her March 2017 firing.

The circuit court, wholly agreeing with the district court’s reasoning, said that none of Evans’ appeal holds up. 

On the ADA claims, the court found that it was undisputed that Evans was “unable to perform the essential functions of her position,” and that termination because of such is protected by the ADA. Further, the court said Evans did not establish that CRC could have provided her with a more reasonable accommodation than her FMLA-approved days because “her daily job duties required her regular and reliable physical presence at the office.” But, regardless, the court noted that Evans did not prove that she ever requested additional leave.

Evans’ argument underpinning her retaliation claims was based on the temporal proximity of her last approved FMLA request, March 14, and her termination, March 27. The court said this, too, failed because her termination was effected with a discharge letter detailing Evans’ unexcused absences as the reason; temporal proximity alone is not enough when a supported reasoning accompanies a firing, the court reasoned.

The remaining claims, all under the FMLA, failed by similar reasoning, according to the court: Evans, regardless of her disability, violated company policy. 

“CRC’s employee work policy expressly prohibited ‘unexcused absences without approved leave,’ ” the court concluded.

Stephen C. Fiebiger Law Office represents Evans. Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP represents CRC.