Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Post-termination diagnosis is insufficient to support ADA claim

Haley Hrdlicka, a 30-year General Motors employee, began having attendance problems after transferring to its Design Academy. Serious attendance problems. Dozens of absences in the four-month period from May – August 2019. A less-than-glowing performance review followed by an "Attendance Letter" (essentially a final written warning) did nothing to improve her attendance. So GM fired her. 

She unsuccessfully appealed her termination through GM's internal grievance process. During that process Hrdlicka was diagnosed with Persistent Depressive Disorder and a brain tumor. She then sued GM for disability discrimination stemming from the after-the-fact diagnosis.

The 6th Circuit wasn't buying it.

Hrdlicka failed to establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination … because her purported disability was unknown to either herself or General Motors until well after her employment was terminated. The parties agree that Hrdlicka was never diagnosed with any medical condition until after her termination. In fact, she never even sought medical help for any symptoms or conditions from which she was suffering while employed. 

Hrdlicka claimed that prior to her termination she had told her supervisor of symptoms she was suffering and that she was "depressed," which should have created a fact issue for trial. The 6th Circuit also dismissed those arguments.

Hrdlicka's text messages required Eko to speculate as to the existence of a disability. Many of the text messages reference only generalized ailments, such as Hrdlicka's "head … really hurting," having a "fever and other symptoms," or simply being "sick." Such symptoms are consistent with many short-term, nondisabling ailments, including a common cold. Other text messages make even more general references to "having a tough time" or dealing with "a mental thing." Although these messages might have given Eko a general awareness of a health issue, that is not enough. At bottom, these text messages were not sufficient to apprise Eko of a disability, especially when Hrdlicka herself was unaware of any disability.

Hrdlicka [also] made only a single, unsubstantiated statement that she was depressed without any corroborating medical evidence and without ever having sought medical help, and she consistently presented the issue as a workplace conflict, not a disability … leaving General Motors to "speculate" as to the existence of a disability as opposed to Hrdlicka's concern about her interpersonal work conflict. 

A remarkably common sense decision from the 6th Circuit. An employer can't discriminate because of an employee's disability if the employee doesn't even know she's disabled until after the termination.