Dismissed discrimination claim upheld by federal appeals court

By Elizabeth Young | Apr 15, 2013

NEW ORLEANS – A Louisiana woman has lost an appeal against her former employer in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth District.

Sue Bell originally sued Hercules Liftboat Co. LLC alleging that the company fired her due to a disability and violated the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law.

According to background information, two years after she was first hired Bell was diagnosed with breast cancer. After a five-month disability leave and successful surgery, she returned to work cancer-free. Bell was also on a common five-year medication regimen prescribed to lower the chances of the breast cancer returning.

Six months after Bell returned to work she was informed that her position was being eliminated. Bell sued, citing discrimination, but admitted in court documents that her post-cancer treatment “made it, basically, impossible to work.” The medication caused problems with Bell’s concentration and vision. In a deposition Bell admitted that she delegated her work to her two subordinates, without whom she “wouldn’t have been able to accomplish anything.”

The district court dismissed Bell’s suit, ruling that accommodating such a situation could not reasonably be expected of an employer causing Bell to appeal.

The Fifth Circuit opinion, written by Circuit Judge Patrick Higginbotham on behalf of himself and Circuit Judges Carolyn Dineen King and Edith Brown Clement, notes that to prove discrimination Bell needed to show that she could perform the essential functions of her job with reasonable accommodation.

While Bell claims that she could function in her position “with the accommodation of her underlings,” the court held that assigning her duties to other employees does not mean that she can be reasonably accommodated “as a matter of law.”

The panel affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of the company.

Case No. 12-30843.

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