The Summit County Court of Appeals last month affirmed summary judgment for a school district on a disability discrimination claim brought by a former food services manager. Pilato v. Nordonia Hills City Schools Bd. of Edn., 2019-Ohio-3085. The manager contended that she had been required to work during her medical leave, but the Court ruled that this did not create a jury question because emails that she sent before and during her medical leave reflected that she had voluntarily continued to work without being directed to do so. Further, the Court concluded that she failed to create a jury question about the reason for her termination when the evidence was so clear and “one-sided” as to her fault despite her self-serving denial that there was nothing for the jury to decide. In other words, the court refused to let the plaintiff’s self-serving and unsupported allegations contradict otherwise overwhelming evidence in order to avoid summary judgment.
According to the Court’s opinion, the plaintiff had worked for many years without any disciplinary history. Because she required knee surgery, she requested and was approved for 10 days off work at the end of the school year. Before she left, she and her manager began planning for the next school year and indicated that they would touch base again after her surgery. During her absence, a food order that she had placed was cancelled using her secret username and password from a non-school computer. Further, employee payroll records were changed from her home computer. Moreover, employees complained about her bullying them. When confronted, she denied the allegations opted to resign her employment rather than accept a demotion and transfer or being fired, but then brought sue alleging disability discrimination.
The Court found that she had not been denied a reasonable accommodation when she continued to work during her medical leave. She had applied and been approved for medical leave. Although she complained on appeal that she had been directed to address the food order cancellation issue while on leave, she had waived by issue by not raising it before the trial court. While she argued in general that she had been expected to work from home while on leave, her supervisor denied this and her own emails indicated that she had not been asked to work. The Court ultimately would not let her contradict her own emails with her deposition testimony in order to create a disputed issue of fact. It found that the evidence was “so one-sided” that the employer was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
The Court rejected her argument that the school fired her because it had required her to work during her medical leave. Instead, GFS had provided records showing that the food order had been cancelled using her secret username and password from a non-school computer and she admitted to having logged onto the GFS website that same evening. Aside from her self-serving denial, the evidence was so overwhelming and “one-sided” that she was guilty of the offense that there was nothing for the jury to decide. Indeed, it was undisputed that the school had already been working with her to plan for the next school year before she went on leave and the only intervening event was the misconduct alleged following her surgery.
NOTICE: This summary is designed merely to inform and alert you of recent legal developments. It does not constitute legal advice and does not apply to any particular situation because different facts could lead to different results. Information here can be changed or amended without notice. Readers should not act upon this information without legal advice. If you have any questions about anything you have read, you should consult with or retain an employment attorney.