Disability Discrimination Case & Employee with Cerebral Palsy
In Schwartz v. Clark County, a Nevada district court granted summary judgment for the employer in an age and disability discrimination case. However, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed because events prior to the employee's discharge suggested an improper motive.
The plaintiff in this case, Mark Schwartz, worked as a senior management analyst in the Business License Department of Clark County, Nevada. He worked for the Department for 18 years and had a record of exemplary performance evaluations. Schwartz, who had cerebral palsy and used a motorized scooter to get around, was managed by Jacqueline Holloway, who allegedly interacted less with Schwartz than any other employee in his job classification.
In 2008, following a Clark County's Human Resources (HR) Department review of analyst job classifications, Schwartz was not recommended for a title change, making him the only remaining management analyst. The other five analysts either received or were offered a title change. They had no disabilities and each were younger than Schwartz.
Two years later, Clark County leadership instructed Holloway to implement budget reductions by laying off employees. Holloway chose to eliminate senior management analysts, of which Schwartz was the only remaining employee with that job classification. Schwartz, who was 63 at the time, was laid off in July of 2010. Although Schwartz had significant seniority, the collective bargaining agreement between Clark County and the relevant union confirmed that the layoff complied with the collective bargaining agreement.
Age and Disability Discrimination Lawsuit Filed in Nevada District Court
Schwartz filed a lawsuit alleging (1) age discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); (2) disability discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA); and (3) deprivation of his constitutional rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Schwartz argued that Holloway had manipulated the results of the management analyst review to single him out for a layoff. He claimed that by removing less senior employees from the job classification, Holloway facilitated the termination of his employment under the pretext of a layoff plan. Additionally, Schwartz argued that Holloway's inconsistent deposition testimony regarding her involvement in the management analyst study and title-change process raised an inference of pretext.
The trial court ruled in favor of the county, finding that Schwartz failed to provide direct or circumstantial evidence connecting his age or disability to his layoff. Further, the district court ruled that there was no evidence indicating a discriminatory purpose in either the title change or the reduction in force.
Decision by the Ninth Circuit
The Ninth Circuit reversed, finding that Schwartz had raised a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether his selection for layoff was pretext for unlawful discrimination. In particular, the court held that a genuine issue of material fact existed based on the following evidence viewed in the light most favorable to Schwartz.
Despite his exemplary performance, Holloway isolated Schwartz and ignored him. Holloway manipulated the results of the management analyst review to single out Schwartz for a layoff. According to court reports, Holloway repeatedly lied at deposition about her involvement in the HR study and title change process. The Ninth Circuit found that “a reasonable jury could conclude that Holloway's explanation is “unworthy of credence” and that Schwartz was, in fact, terminated because of his disability and/or age.“
Also, the Ninth Circuit found that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on Schwartz's § 1983 claim. The district court held that Schwartz's parallel constitutional claim failed because he “provide[d] no evidence that a discriminatory policy or practice enacted by the municipality existed.” But Schwartz asserted a § 1983 claim only against Holloway, arguing that she abused her position to discriminate against him in violation of his rights to due process and equal protection. The evidence supporting Schwartz's ADA and ADEA claims also raises a triable issue as to this claim.
The Ninth Circuit's decision in this case illustrates how it is possible for an employee to survive summary judgment and proceed to trial even when an employee has no direct evidence of discrimination, and while the employer offers a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. Should you have questions about ADA, age or disability discrimination, don't hesitate to contact leading California employment lawyers at Kingsley & Kingsley. Call and speak to an experienced California lawyer toll-free at (888) 500-8469 or contact us via email.