Cindy Tinsley apparently didn’t like her boss. After taking
a good deal of time off, she asked her employer, Caterpillar Financial
Services, to assign her to a new supervisor or to permit her to take additional
medical leave. Caterpillar approved eighteen weeks of intermittent medical
leave but denied her request for a new supervisor or additional leave. Tinsley
eventually resigned, and filed a lawsuit against Caterpillar.
Tinsley alleged that Caterpillar discriminated against her
in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by failing to
accommodate her disability--PTSD-- and by constructively discharging her.
Tinsley also claimed that she received a negative performance review and was
placed on an improvement plan in retaliation for taking leave pursuant to the
Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). An appeals court allowed the FMLA claim, but
disagreed that Caterpillar violated the ADA.
With regard to the ADA, Tinsley asserted that her PTSD
impacted only the major life activity of working. Thus, the question became
whether Tinsley’s PTSD sufficiently limited her ability to perform a class of
jobs or a broad range of jobs. It did not. As the district court pointed out,
the record was replete with undisputed evidence showing that Tinsley’s issues
stemmed directly from her supervisor’s (Kaikaris) management style as opposed
to the responsibilities of a broad range of jobs. The clearest example was when
Tinsley told Human Resources that she would be able to continue in the same
position so long as she was under the direction of a different supervisor
because her disability was triggered by the way Kaikaris managed. There were
several other pieces of evidence pointing to the same thing.
For instance, on August 19, when Tinsley emailed Human
Resources to request a new position, she explained that “the work itself was
not the primary issue.” And in the Charge of Discrimination she filed with the
Tennessee Human Rights Commission, Tinsley wrote that the company could have
accommodated her disability by switching her supervisor.
Last, her doctor cleared her to return to work at one point
“at full capacity,” suggesting only that the company switch her supervisor to
alleviate any medical concerns. The only recommendation the physician made—to
have Tinsley transfer to a different supervisor—related to her stress level
under Kaikaris specifically. Indeed, when offered the same position under a
different supervisor, Tinsley agreed that she would be able to perform the job
duties. Thus, Tinsley’s limitations were more accurately a product of the
unique aspect of her job, i.e.,
working as an analyst under Kaikaris’ management style. Because Tinsley
consistently phrased her limitation in terms of Kaikaris’ specific management
style, she failed to show that she was substantially limited in performing
either a class of jobs or broad range of jobs in various classes. Accordingly,
she was not “disabled” pursuant to the ADA and was thus not entitled to a
reasonable accommodation of additional time off or a job transfer.
As to the FMLA claim, because receiving a negative
performance review and being placed on an improvement plan would dissuade a
reasonable employee from taking FMLA leave, and since the adverse employment
action occurred just over two months after the protected activity, Tinsley
satisfied her prima facie showing for her retaliation claim. On remand,
Caterpillar was required to provide a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for
the alleged adverse employment action.
Howard & Howard Attorneys PLLC
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