Federal District Court Finds Fired Nurse Was Not Qualified For Her Job Under the ADA
Posted on Employment Law News February 24, 2013 by author
In Bell v. Methodist Healthcare Memphis Hosps., the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment because the Plaintiff, a registered nurse who suffered from fibromyalgia, failed to show that she was a “qualified individual” for her position. Specifically, Plaintiff did not establish that she could perform her essential job functions due to her condition when following her termination she applied for only one nursing job; and shortly thereafter she started collecting disability benefits. Plaintiff failed to reconcile this apparent inconsistency between the claim that she was “otherwise qualified to work,” and her statement to the Social Security Administration admitting that she was disabled.
The Plaintiff was employed by the Hospital Defendant as a Registered Nurse since 1991. In 1996, she was involved in a car accident which she believed caused her onset of fibromyalgia. Plaintiff was fired from her position on September 8, 2010, and she filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Hospital in September 2011. Subsequently, the Court entered an order granting partial judgment on the pleadings, and the Hospital filed a motion for summary judgment on the remaining claims, namely age and disability discrimination.
The Hospital argued that the Plaintiff could not perform her essential job functions as a Registered Nurse “on an ongoing and satisfactory basis.”
The Plaintiff responded that she set forth a prima facie case for disability discrimination under the ADA. Furthermore, she argued she presented specific facts showing a triable issue of material fact that she was otherwise qualified for her employment position.
As an initial matter, the Court articulated that Plaintiff’s receipt of disability benefits in itself did not preclude a finding that she was otherwise qualified for her job. However, Plaintiff did not offer any explanation for the apparent inconsistency, evidenced by the Notice of Award from the Social Security Administration which stated: “You are due disability benefits because you are expected to be disabled under our rules for at least 5 full calendar months. Therefore, you should let us know if your health improves or you are able to return to work.”
In addition, the Court pointed out to the record replete with evidence showing that over the period of five years preceding her termination the Plaintiff received multiple negative performance appraisals, including comments that she needed to improve her pace in patient assessments. The evidence also revealed that Plaintiff was given both formal and informal counseling, as well as written warnings because of her deficient performance. Thus, even when viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, it was undisputed that Plaintiff was simply unable to perform her job duties in a consistent and timely manner.  No. 11-02755, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1108 (E.D. Tenn. Jan. 28, 2013). The Court granted the Defendant’s motion for summary judgment based on the finding that Plaintiff abandoned her state age discrimination claim because she only made an argument and cited to evidence related to her disability discrimination claim under the ADA.  The Notice also explicitly stated that the Agency’s determination was based on information provided by the Plaintiff.  Interestingly, Nicholson & Eastin, LLP recently successfully defended a medical practice employer in a trial, against claims of disability and age discrimination made by a former employee, an x-ray technician. As in Bell v. Methodist, the Plaintiff disputed she was discharged for misconduct, despite clear evidence of disruptive and otherwise substandard job performance over the years of her employment. After only 30 minutes of deliberation, a federal jury returned a defense verdict. See Nicholson & Eastin, LLP Firm’s News, Blog entry dated December 20, 2012.