Termination Letter Citing Employee’s “Medical Reasons” Was Direct Evidence Of Disability Discrimination

Randi Klein Hyatt
Randi Klein Hyatt

A Tennessee federal district court granted summary judgment to an employee on his disability discrimination claim based on a letter confirming that he was terminated for “medical reasons.”  Lovell v. Champion Car Wash, 3:12-00254 (M.D. Tenn. September 3, 2013).  This case is the epitome of how an employer’s untrained approach to employment issues can be damaging.

Mr. Lovell worked for a car wash company (Champion), and because of his medical conditions had asked to be transferred to a morning shift at a location that was air-conditioned.  His employer was aware of Mr. Lovell’s heart condition and that he had endured multiple hip surgeries.  Champion denied Mr. Lovell’s request because it believed he just wanted to work the first shift.  Mr. Lovell then provided Champion a doctor’s note stating: “Due to cardiomyopathy [Mr. Lovell] should avoid heat of day due to risk of dehydration.”

Champion interpreted the note to mean that Lovell could not perform his job and terminated him the same day.  The termination letter stated, in pertinent part, as follows:

I take health issues seriously, particularly heart related issues. Since I now have a doctor’s note in my possession, liability for your heart issue is now passed along to me.  If you got overheated while working at Champion Car Wash, and it caused further damage or injury to your heart, I would be liable and open to a lawsuit.

Frankly, I do not have any jobs available that would preclude you from working in the heat of the day. . . .  Those words from your doctor “he should avoid the heat of the day …” prevent you from performing your job duties during any heat that may exist at any point during the day. . . .

Since you cannot perform your job duties as needed, I am going to have to release you, for medical reasons . . . .

Lovell sued for, among other things, ADA violations.  The court granted Lovell’s motion for summary judgment, finding that Champion’s letter was direct evidence of disability discrimination because the only explanation for termination was medical reasons.  Employers must be careful when explaining an adverse employment action.  A letter like this is a gift for a plaintiff, which could have been avoided with proper advice and counsel.

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