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Unsubstantiated Beliefs Do Not Support a Retaliation Claim

Unsubstantiated Beliefs Do Not Support a Retaliation Claim

December 30, 1998
Related Topics: Wrongful Discharge, Retaliation
Retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is not established unless the belief in illegality is reasonable and expressed.

Paul Talanda, a manager for Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), was told to move a counter employee, Dorothy Bellson, who was missing many teeth, to the kitchen, away from customers. Talanda refused because he thought it would be discriminatory, and he encouraged Bellson to file suit. When his supervisor received no explanation for his actions, he was terminated for insubordination. Talanda sued for retaliatory discharge under the ADA.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of KFC, holding Talanda’s belief unreasonable because Bellson wasn’t disabled—moving her to another position wasn’t an adverse employment action. Talanda’s refusal to explain his actions was also unreasonable. The court of appeals agreed; the U.S. Supreme Court denied review of the case. Missing teeth did not limit major life activity because Bellson assumed another position. Talanda never told anyone he felt Bellson’s move was discriminatory, so his termination was not retaliatory. Talanda vs. KFC National Management Co., 140 F.3d 1090 (7th Cir. 1998), cert. denied, U.S. Sup. Ct. 10/5/98.

Employers will not be liable for retaliation when the employee’s belief in illegality is unreasonable and the refusal to act is not explained.

Source: D. Diane Hatch, Ph.D., a human resources consultant based in San Francisco, and James E. Hall, an attorney with Barlow, Kobata & Denis, based in Los Angeles and Chicago, December 18, 1998.

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