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Appeals court says EMT's discrimination lawsuit can proceed

Indiana readers might be interested in the details of an Aug. 19 decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturning a lower court ruling in a disability discrimination lawsuit. The court found that a woman who had been ordered into counseling by her employer could proceed with her claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The woman worked as an emergency medical technician with an ambulance company. According to the facts revealed in the lawsuit, she became involved with a coworker, and the "tumultuous" nature of their affair led the woman to have emotional outbursts that the ambulance company claimed affected her job performance.

The director of the company cited two incidents as evidence of the detrimental effect of the woman's emotional state. Specifically, evidence was presented indicating that she had once failed to respond to a request to give oxygen to a patient and that she had once used her cell phone while she was driving an ambulance. The court said that a pattern of detrimental behavior may have been sufficient to justify the counseling order but that the two incidents cited as evidence did not establish such a pattern.

Moreover, the court said, the ambulance company's director gave testimony indicating that he was concerned about the woman's sexual behavior and that he believed counseling may help her clean up her life. Such moral concerns, according to the court, do not constitute reasonable medical judgment as may have justified the counseling order under the ADA.

While the court did not go so far as to say that the conduct of the ambulance company constituted workplace disability discrimination, it did find that the woman's case could proceed, reversing the lower court's summary judgment in favor of the ambulance company. The Sixth Circuit had remanded the case on a different issue once previously. While appeals are not altogether common, in a case like this an employment law attorney may be able to help a plaintiff by preserving issues for appeal during trial court proceedings or by preparing and organizing evidence for appeal of an adverse ruling.

Source: Bloomberg BNA, "Counseling for Sexual Conduct May Not Be Job-Related Business Necessity, Court Rules", August 20, 2014

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