Appeals Court Partially Overturns Ruling for Call Center Defendant in ADA, FMLA Case

The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has partially affirmed and partially overturned a lower court’s ruling in a disability discrimination case involving an employee at a call center who accused her former employer of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Cowgill v. First Data Technologies and Fiserv Solutions can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff, who had retained a nearly spotless disciplinary record and who received above-average employment reviews, was injured in an automobile accident and subsequently suffered back pain. She submitted a note from her doctor under the FMLA for a reduced work schedule, which the company approved. Eight months later, the plaintiff recertified her FMLA request and it was approved by her employer. Months later, the plaintiff met with her supervisor, who issued a Final Written Warning for too many unexplained absences. The plaintiff met with a representative from Human Resources, who withdrew the warning. The supervisor subsequently brought up issues on two phone calls in which the plaintiff allegedly failed to follow proper “call avoidance” procedures and the plaintiff was terminated.

The plaintiff filed suit, alleging the defendant violated the ADA by failing to accommodate her disability and for discriminating against her, and the FMLA. A District Court judge granted a motion to dismiss some of the claims and then granted a motion for summary judgment filed by the defendant on the discrimination and failure-to-accommodate claims as well.

But the District Court judge erred in granting summary judgment on the discrimination claim, the Appeals Court ruled. For example, another employee was given special coaching attention and was reassigned to work closer to her team leaders when she was found to have engaged in call avoidance, whereas the plaintiff did not go to the same lengths for the plaintiff, the Appeals Court ruled. As well, a note from the defendant’s HR department questioning whether the disciplinary process escalated “too quickly” led the Appeals Court to determine that “a reasonable factfinder could be persuaded that First Data engaged in a disparate application of its progressive discipline when Cowgill was up for discussion.”

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