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From Health Law Daily, February 12, 2014

Nurse’s ADA and FMLA claims against employer allowed to continue

By Melissa Skinner, JD

A nurse with mental illness issues was allowed to continue her American with Disabilities (ADA) failure to accommodate and Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) interference claims against her employer because she established that genuine issues of material facts existed with regard to whether she provided proper notice of her work absences, whether written warnings about her tardiness and absences interfered with her rights under the FMLA, and whether she provided her supervisors with sufficient information of her illness and her need for accommodation. Additionally, the nurse’s claim for discrimination under the ADA were allowed to continue over the employer’s motion for summary judgment because the employer’s claims that the nurse was terminated due to her attendance issues was not enough to prove there was a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the termination or that the nurse was meeting the employer’s expectations (Walters v Mayo Clinic Health System-Eau Claire Hospital, Inc., February 10, 2014, Conley, W).

Background. Amy J. Walters, a registered nurse, was employed with Mayo Clinic Health System-Eau Claire Hospital (Mayo-Eau Claire) from 1998 until April of 2011. Walters was diagnosed with chronic depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After Walters was promoted in August of 2010, and because she was going through a difficult divorce at the time, Walters began taking new medications for increased anxiety. Walters left work one day in October of 2010 because of her anxiety issues. It is disputed whether Walters provided proper notice of her departure that day. Walters received a written warning for departure but later was approved for FMLA leave for that day. Subsequently, between December of 2010 and April of 2011, Walters was demoted and suspended for three days without pay due to tardiness, according to May-Eau Claire. In April of 2011, Walters was terminated after she did not show up for a shift.

Holding. Mayo-Eau Claire filed a motion for summary judgment in response to Walters’ claims of failure to accommodate and discrimination under the ADA and for interference with her rights under the FMLA. The court refused to grant the motion because Walters presented evidence to show genuine issues of material facts exist as to her claims against Mayo-Eau Claire. Specifically, the court found although Walters could not prove the termination was improper retaliation under the FMLA, she was able to show potential interference as there was a genuine dispute as to whether she provided proper notice of her departure from work in October of 2010. Additionally, Walters provided arguments to show genuine issues as to her interference claims in regard to whether the written warnings she received after the October incident constituted interference.

Further, Walter’s ADA claims were allowed to proceed in general since Walters showed that her mental health issues were enough to qualify her for protection under the ADA in that her depression, anxiety, and PTSD substantially limited one or more of her life activities. In particular, the court upheld her claim that Mayo-Eau Claire failed to accommodate her disabilities because it found that Mayo-Eau Claire had sufficient knowledge of her mental illness at the relevant times and Walters made her need for help known. The court rejected Mayo-Eau Claire’s argument that Walters’ claim failed because she did not make a specific request for an “accommodation.” Finally, Walter’s arguments disputing Mayo-Eau Claire’s characterization of her attendance record as well as her allegations regarding other employees with similar or worse attendance records who were not terminated were sufficient to support her ADA discrimination claim.

The case number is 12-cv-804-wmc.

Attorneys: Peter M. Reinhardt (Bakke Norman, SC) for Amy J. Walters. Michael J. Modl (Axley Brynelson, LLP) for Mayo Clinic Health System - Eau Claire Hospital, Inc.

Companies: Mayo Clinic Health System; Eau Claire Hospital, Inc.

MainStory: TopStory EmploymentNews IPPSNews WisconsinNews

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