Fourth Circuit ADA Plaintiff Loses on Summary Judgment Due To Admissions Made In His Own Complaint

Bernadette Hunton
Bernadette Hunton
01/21/2022

One of the more challenging areas of employment law that businesses must grapple with is leave accommodations.  Employers and employees often disagree about how much leave is too much leave and, when circumstances result in an employee’s termination, it’s not uncommon for litigation to ensue. Such were the facts of an employment dispute decided by the Fourth Circuit this week. Jessup v. Barnes Group, Inc., No. 20-1801 (1/19/22).

Plaintiff Jessup worked as a sales manager for Barnes Group. After Jessup suffered a panic attack, he was granted eight months’ leave.  Jessup returned to work, but it wasn’t long before he suffered another panic attack.  This time, Barnes Group denied Jessup’s full request for leave. When Jessup didn’t return to work as expected, Barnes Group terminated his employment.

Jessup filed suit against Barnes Group, alleging a variety of claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  But, in a rather unusual twist, it was Jessup’s allegations made in his complaint that put an early end to his case.

Significantly, Jessup admitted in his complaint that since the date of his second request for leave “he has not been able to recover from this debilitating relapseand is now fully and completely disable[d] and unable to work.”

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Barnes Group, reasoning that Jessup’s allegations amounted to an admission by Jessup that he could not perform the essential functions of his job at the time of his termination. 

The Fourth Circuit panel agreed, stating:

Our holding is limited and simple: admissions in pleadings bind a party; and here Jessup has bound himself by effectively admitting in his complaint and in deposition testimony that he is not a “qualified individual.”

The case underscores the importance of careful drafting of pleadings regardless of which side you are on.

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