Federal Court upholds dismissal of claim raised by woman terminated on return from medical leave
Gwendolyn Donald was an Assistant Manager for Sybra, Inc., doing business as Arby's. In the previous two years, she had experienced serious health problems associated with ovarian cysts, renal stones and a gall bladder surgery. She had missed a total of more than eight weeks' work. In February of 2008, she had trouble with renal stones on her scheduled days off and informed her employer. In the meantime, the employer had begun to investigate her, it claimed, because of a $4.00 or $5.00 discrepancy in her cash drawer; her supervisor testified that he suspected her of improperly discounting meals and pocketing the difference. When Donald returned to work on the 29th of February, she was fired.Donald claimed she was fired in retaliation for taking Family Medical Leave Act time and in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The employer claimed she was fired because it suspected her of pocketing cash. The latter allegation was never documented, the employer did not file criminal charges and it did not object to her collection of unemployment benefits (they would not be allowed if she was guilty of misconduct). Nevertheless, the courts upheld the summary dismissal of her claim. (Hers was one of four summary disposition requests approved by Michigan Courts in a single day: Injury and employment claim victims were "0 for 4," a great batting average for the insurance industry, not having to defend even one of the claims before a jury.
In the case of Ms. Donald, the Court held that even though "substantial questions" were raised with regard to her FMLA claim, she failed to demonstrate that the "discounted meals" explanation offered by the Defendant was "mere pretext." The Court paid lip-service to its legal duty to "draw all reasonable inferences in favor of Donald [since the motion was for summary disposition and it could not decide disputed facts]." The appellate judges nevertheless summarily decided that Donald's absence played no role in her dismissal. The Court summarily decided this "intensely factual determination" against Donald, despite the "peculiar timing of her termination," because it refused to examine the employer's motives.
The employer's actions "admittedly gave the judges' pause," which is not surprising, since the money discrepancy was so small, the timing so suspicious, the employer's own protocol was not followed, and Donald's employment history was good. Nevertheless, the Court deemed these issues "irrelevant" because it concluded the employer presumptively acted on an "honest belief" and the Judges refused to "wade into an employer's decision-making process."
In short, the court illegally presumed that the employer did not violate either act, despite genuine evidence creating a legitimate question of fact, under circumstances where the court was obligated to interpret factual issues in a manner adverse to summary disposition. Congratulations Judges Suhrheinrich and Cole. You have issued a decision and an opinion that stretches the limits of credibility and justicial responsibility, in service to your personal political beliefs. Judicial activism at its finest.