Daugherity and Wolkomir Win Summary Judgment on Behalf of Largest U.S. Hospice Care Provider in Federal Age and Disability Discrimination/Retaliation Suit
Plaintiff, a 68 year old with a hearing disability, was employed by the client as a secretary for 12 years. Following a company reduction in force (“RIF”), Plaintiff was terminated. She interviewed for an open position at another location within the company but, ultimately, a decision was made to hire a candidate who was not previously employed with the company.
Plaintiff filed a Complaint alleging that the employer violated her rights under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ADEA, and the Illinois Human Rights Act. Plaintiff asserted that the employer discriminated against her throughout her employment due to her hearing disability. She also alleged that the employer refused to provide reasonable accommodation and created a hostile work environment, consisting of pervasive harassment related to her hearing disability and age. Plaintiff asserted that she was terminated due to her disability, need for accommodation and in retaliation for reporting discrimination and harassment to the employer’s corporate office. Lastly, Plaintiff averred that the employer refused to transfer her to an open secretarial position, or rehire her at another location, due to her age.
Following Defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the Federal Judge agreed with Defense counsel’s argument that the employer “provided substantial evidence that it had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for terminating [the plaintiff’s] employment” and that Plaintiff “failed to provide evidence from which a reasonable factfinder could conclude [that the basis of the employer’s adverse employment action] was pretextual…” Defense counsel also convinced the Court that Plaintiff failed to show a causal connection between her reporting of discriminatory/harassing conduct and her termination. Significantly, the Court agreed with Defendant’s argument that the temporal proximity (seven and a half weeks) between the termination and the alleged report of discrimination was insufficient to support an inference of impermissible motive. This comports with prior holdings finding that a six week lapse between an employee’s complaint and termination was too long to draw a reasonable inference of retaliation.
This case highlights the importance of factual context in discrimination/retaliation claims, and how diligent discovery efforts can significantly positively affect the defense of employers.
Paul W. Daugherity and Joshua M. Wolkomir are Partners at Clausen Miller P.C., handling a myriad employment law claims. If you have any questions regarding this case or the opinion of Judge Kennelly, please contact Paul at 312-606-7412 or Josh at 312-606-7538.