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11th Circuit Update: Disability, Protected Activity, Harassment

Sandra Nolley v. AT&T Services, Inc., et. al. No. 14-13470 (11th Cir. May 1, 2015)

Denial of Disability Benefits Not De Novo Wrong When Claimant Did Not Meet Definition of Disabled

Brief summary: Sandra Nolley, a pro se litigant, appealed summary judgment in favor of AT&T Services and Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc. regarding her claims for wrongful termination of her long-term disability benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). On appeal, the 11th Circuit examined the plan administrator benefit’s determination for correctness based on the six-part analysis as determined by the Supreme Court. The examination was to review the evidence before the administrator at the time the benefits decision is made. In holding, the 11th Circuit found the district court did not err in granting summary judgment because Sedgwick’s denial of benefits was not de novo wrong as Nolley did not meet the plan’s definition of disabled when the majority of her cognitive processes were within normal limits. Decision affirmed.

Robert Williams v. Georgia Stevedore Association, Inc., et al, No. 14-11790 (11th Cir. May 4, 2015)

Two years between protected activity and adverse action does not establish temporal proximity, but two months does.

Brief summary: In Williams v. Georgia Stevedore Association, Robert Williams, a longshoreman employed by a collective bargaining agreement, appealed summary judgment in favor of Defendant on his claims for retaliation under Title VII. Williams alleged retaliation due to engaging in protected activity, including hiring a female who he was told not to hire for her complaints about gender discrimination, filing an EEOC claim, and filing the instant litigation. On appeal, the 11th Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding that William’s hiring of the female was not protected activity, as Williams failed to produce evidence to support that he was “opposing discrimination” when he hired her. Regarding the EEOC claim, the 11th Circuit concluded the filing constituted protected activity, but that Williams failed to show a casual nexus and/or temporal proximity in the January 2010 filing of the charge, and his suspension occurring almost two (2) years later. Finally, with regard to the filing of the lawsuit, the 11th Circuit also concluded the filing constituted protected activity, and also found a casual nexus between the filing in November 2011, and the change in employment position two (2) months later. However, the 11th Circuit concluded the district court grant of summary judgment did not constitute reversible error when it found that the employer established non-discriminatory reason for the discipline, and that the Plaintiff failed to present evidence showing pretext. Decision affirmed.

Noria C. Green v. Mobis Alabama, LLC, et al., No. 14-11328 (11th Cir. May 26, 2015)

Employer’s Reasonable Belief Employee Forged Doctor’s Notes Negates Discriminatory Animus

Brief summary: In Green vs. Mobis Alabama, former employee Noria Green appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on her claims of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation under Title VII, violations under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Equal Pay violations, and state tort claims (including assault and battery). By background, Green alleged that her supervisor sexually harassed her by sending inappropriate text messages, staring at her, making unwanted comments, and touching her inappropriately. She anonymously reported the harassment, and Mobis sought a formal complaint from the anonymous complaint, as well as began an investigation. After two other employees also reported harassment by the supervisor, he was terminated in June 2011. Green filed an EEOC charge the same day, sounding in gender discrimination and retaliation, to include her removal from a team lead position after her complaints. In June 2011, Green took FMLA leave. In October, Green submitted additional doctor’s notes for leave. Upon the company’s FMLA coordinator follow-up to the doctor’s office, the company learned Green was not at the doctor’s office, and did not attend work.  The FMLA coordinator had no knowledge of Green’s complaints of harassment, and did not participate in Green’s termination. Mobis then terminated Green for falsifying doctor’s notes in October 2011, which Green denied. Subsequently, Green filed another EEOC charge for retaliation due to her termination.

At the district court level, and regarding Mobis’ motion for summary judgment, the court concluded Mobis established the elements of the Faragher-Ellerth affirmative defense because it took care to correct the sexual harassment and Green failed to use measures to avoid harm. Green filed a Rule 60(b) motion, which was denied, and she appealed.

On appeal, the 11th Circuit court noted that a reasonable person would conclude Green’s doctor’s notes from different time periods were identical, and therefore, Mobis had a reasonable belief Green forged the notes to support termination and deny the Title VII and FMLA retaliation claims.  Regarding the Equal Pay Act claim, the 11th Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of this claim, as Green was never promoted to the position at issue for the claim, Mobis was not required to pay her for that position. Decision affirmed.

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* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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