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Terminated Employee's 'Regarded As' Claim Weighed

October 16, 2009
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Related Topics: Disabilities, Employee Leave, Discrimination and EEOC Compliance
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Erin Primmer was hired as a television producer for The Montel Williams Show in August 2005, during the show’s 15th season. Her contract, running from August 2006 through May 18, 2007, was renewed for the 16th season with a 6 percent salary increase. On March 29, 2007, Primmer had emergency surgery for a brain aneurysm and did not return to work for the remainder of the 16th television season. However, she was cleared by her doctor to return to work for the start of the 17th season.

In May 2007, prior to the start of that season, Primmer met with her supervising producer, Susan Henry, and discussed her condition. At that time, Henry said Primmer’s contract was not being renewed because the show “needed someone at the top of their game” who could “handle the pressure.”

Primmer filed suit in U.S. District Court in New York, alleging that the show violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because of her perceived disability. The district court denied the show’s motion to dismiss the action, finding that factual issues existed concerning when the show actually decided to terminate Primmer. Primmer was never advised before suffering her aneurysm that her job performance was unsatisfactory or that her continued employment was in jeopardy. Henry’s comment that the show needed someone “at the top of their game” would allow a jury to decide that the decision not to renew Primmer’s contact was at least in part motivated on her perceived disability, “especially given the close proximity between Primmer’s return [following the aneurysm] and her meeting with Henry,” the court found. Primmer v. CBS Studios Inc., S.D.N.Y., No. 08-9422 (9/8/09).

Impact: Employers must return to work employees who have been released by their doctors to work and who can perform essential job duties and responsibilities of their positions. Where requested or necessary, reasonable accommodations should be discussed with the employee.

Workforce Management, October 19, 2009, p. 12 -- Subscribe Now!

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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