Southern District of Georgia
No. 2462639, 2007 WL 2462639
August 27, 2007
Keywords: employment, lawful discharge, transportation
Facts of the Case
Ms. Sharon Hagan was employed by Mason Dixon Intermodal, Inc. (“Mason Dixon”) as a billing/payroll clerk, responsible for typing and filing payroll documents for the trucking company. After two years of solid job performance, Mason Dixon increased the number of truck drivers on its payroll, thereby increasing Ms. Hagan’s workload. She requested that her supervisor hire someone to assist her in the billing/payroll duties. Mason Dixon hired Ms. Terry Sutherland for this purpose. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Hagan suffered a stroke that substantially limited the use of her left hand and leg and caused her to miss work. Mason Dixon asserted that at the time of her stroke the company�s established medical leave policy was six weeks plus accrued, unused vacation time. Ms. Hagan never knew of such a policy, nor was the policy in writing during the time she worked there.
Despite repeated attempts to contact Mason Dixon’s Human Resources Department, Ms. Hagan was not made explicitly aware of the company’s medical leave policy until eleven days before it was to expire. One day before her leave was to expire, Ms. Hagan emailed Mason Dixon’s Regional Manager and insisted she would be able to return to work if given one additional month leave to recover. Her request was denied. The following day, Ms. Hagan’s medical leave expired and she was discharged from the company.
During Ms. Hagan’s absence, Ms. Sutherland assumed all payroll/billing duties. When Ms. Hagan later sought re-employment with Mason Dixon she was told Ms. Sutherland exhibited superior work performance and independently handled the same workload Ms. Hagan had required assistance to complete. She was not re-hired. Ms. Hagan alleged that Mason Dixon terminated and refused to rehire her because of the disabilities resulting from her stroke in violation of the ADA.
Issues of the Case
- The court accepted that Ms. Hagan was a qualified individual with a disability under the ADA without discussion. Thus, this case turned on two issues, whether: Ms. Hagan’s discharge from Mason Dixon was because of her disability or was consistent with the company’s medical leave policy and a legitimate and nondiscriminatory reason for her discharge; and
- Mason Dixon’s decision not to rehire Ms. Hagan was based on her disability or a legitimate and nondiscriminatory business decision.
Arguments & Analysis
1. First, Ms. Hagan asserted that Mason Dixon’s reliance on a medical-leave policy to justify her discharge was pretext used to mask unlawful discrimination.
She based her claim on the following: (1) she had no knowledge of Mason Dixon’s medical-leave policy until eleven days before it expired, (2) Mason Dixon�s medical-leave policy was unwritten and selectively applied, and (3) Mason Dixon repeatedly failed to return the phone calls she made in an effort to discover if there was a medical-leave policy. The court determined that poor administration on the part of Mason Dixon’s Human Resource Department caused these conditions, and not discrimination based on her disability. Additionally, because Ms. Hagan did not present evidence suggesting Mason Dixon’s true medical-leave policy was different than the one applied the court held that her discharge under this policy was legitimate and nondiscriminatory.
2. Second, the court rejected Ms. Hagan’s claim that Mason Dixon’s decision not to re-hire her was because of her disability.
Instead, the court emphasized that prior to her stroke Ms. Hagan had difficulty handling her workload and required assistance from Ms. Sutherland. During the time Ms. Hagan was on medical leave, Ms. Sutherland mastered the billing/payroll system and was able to handle the entire workload on her own. The court found Mason Dixon’s decision not to re-hire Ms. Hagan was based on objective evidence of Ms. Sutherland’s superior performance, and that this was a legitimate and nondiscriminatory reason to deny employment to Ms. Hagan.
The court held that Mason Dixon’s termination and subsequent refusal to re-hire Ms. Hagan was for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons. As such, her discharge was determined lawful.
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