Butler v. BTC Foods Inc., PICS Case No. 14-0250 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 30, 2014) Restrepo, J. (15 pages).

U.S. DISTRICT COURT - EASTERN

The Legal Intelligencer

LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT

Disability Discrimination • Termination • Wrongful Discharge

Butler v. BTC Foods Inc., PICS Case No. 14-0250 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 30, 2014) Restrepo, J. (15 pages).

Butler sued BTC Foods for employment discrimination alleging discriminatory termination. Butler contended that he was protected by the ADA due to the pain he suffered and his difficulty in bending and lifting after a hernia operation from which he never fully recovered. Butler also alleged that his termination was improper retaliation under the ADA and PHRA.BTC countered that Butler was not terminated, but voluntarily resigned and signed a resignation letter. BTC's motion for summary judgment on the discrimination and retaliation claims was denied. Butler's wrongful discharge claim failed as a matter of law and was dismissed.

Butler worked for BTC from January 2007 to January 2011. He began as a part-time helper in food delivery and in 2008 was promoted to a full-time shipper and receiver. In March 2010, he sustained a double hernia and in 2011 had surgery, missing six weeks of work. He asserted that he never fully recovered and continued to have pain.

In November 2010 after a worksite incident, BTC and the union agreed to transfer Butler to another worksite. This transfer never transpired. In January 2011 Butler told Markopoulos, his direct supervisor, that he was continuing to experience pain and would "likely need to take time off again." Butler was terminated approximately one week later.

BTC contended that Butler resigned. Butler agreed that he signed a letter of resignation but argued that he was forced or tricked into signing it. BTC pointed to the fact that Butler "falsified" his employment application by failing to include any reference to his prior criminal record as a reason for his dismissal.

Butler also alleged that the stated reason for his termination was merely a pretext and that he was dismissed due to his disability.

For purposes of summary judgment, Butler established a material question as to whether he was disabled under the ADA. He also provided a material issue as to whether he was regarded as disabled through his testimony regarding his conversation with Markopoulos about needing to take additional leave for ongoing pain. While BTC alleged that Butler resigned voluntarily, its arguments about the separation were inconsistent and not consistent with its own documents. Thus, Butler made a prima facie case for discrimination.

Butler's request for leave, even if it was informal, was a request for a reasonable accommodation. Thus, he was engaged in protected action and the one week separating the action and the termination sustains his burden of showing retaliation. However, his claim that his termination in connection with seeking worker's compensation benefits amounts to wrongful discharge failed as a matter of law. He was a member of a union that had both a collective bargaining agreement and grievance procedures.