If you have a disability, you still have to be able to do your job to the standards set forth for other employees. If you have not been able to do that, your discrimination claim may fail unless you have strong evidence that discrimination was the motive for any adverse job decision.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently heard a case involving a district manager at a retail chain who was diagnosed with cancer. He complained that one of his two regional managers made a shockingly discriminatory remark before he was fired.
Unfortunately, there was substantial evidence that the man’s work performance had suffered for a period of time. For example, although his job involved recruiting, hiring, training and retaining workers, there was high employee turnover in his stores and employee paperwork and background checks were left uncompleted. Additionally, one of his regional managers noted out-of-stock items and stores that were not ready for customers. The company implemented a performance improvement plan on two occasions.
The other regional manager allegedly mocked and demeaned the district manager, at one point making him get down on his hands and knees to straighten a product. He then told him “I know three people who had what you had, and they all died.”
Ultimately, the company fired the district manager, claiming that he had failed to remedy the performance issues.
The district manager sued for discrimination, claiming that the ostensible reason for the firing was a pretext.
Employers have a right to defend their employment decisions
Although it is possible that a jury could have found that the district manager was fired because of his cancer, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals determined that this result would have been in error.
For one thing, although both regional managers apparently made some comments or actions that could be taken as biased against his disability, the district manager failed to show that these instances were reasonably close in time to the decision to fire him. He needed to show that the ostensible reason he was fired was, more likely than not, a pretext for discrimination.
In order to show that the ostensible reason was a pretext, the district manager would have had to show that the ostensible reason was probably false. But he had documented issues and deficiencies in his performance, and that would have been sufficient reason to fire him.
If you have a disability and have suffered an adverse job action such as discipline, demotion or firing, you may have a discrimination case. However, it is important to realize that courts may not accept your arguments if there was a sufficient, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse job action.