Michael R. Lied

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Employee Not Entitled To New Boss (Friday, May 10, 2019)

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.

The case is Tinsley v. Caterpillar Financial Services, Corp.,--- Fed.Appx. ----, 2019 WL 1302189 (6th Circuit, March 20, 2019).


Michael R. Lied
Howard & Howard Attorneys PLLC
One Technology Plaza, 211 Fulton Street, Suite 600, Peoria, IL 61602
(309) 999-6311
mlied@howardandhoward.com

 

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