Where an employee confirmed in his deposition testimony that he had been “unable to work” since his relapse and failed to suggest a reasonable accommodation that would have allowed him to do so, his employer prevailed on wrongful termination and failure-to-accommodate claims.
This appeal arises from the district court’s grant of summary judgment to an employer (Barnes Group Inc.) on a former employee’s claims of wrongful termination, failure to accommodate, and a hostile work environment in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA.
To establish either a wrongful termination or a failure-to-accommodate claim under the ADA, a plaintiff must show that he is a “qualified individual.” Here, Jeffrey A. Jessup alleged in his complaint (filed in August 2018) that after his relapse in July 2017, he “has not been able to recover from this debilitating relapse into severe anxiety and major depression, and is now fully and completely disable[d] and unable to work.” Jessup repeatedly affirmed those precise facts in his deposition. Jessup has thus admitted that he has been “unable to work” since his relapse and failed to suggest any reasonable accommodation that would have allowed him to do so, rendering him unable to show that he could perform the essential functions of his job at the time Barnes fired him.
Jessup attempts to avoid his admissions in two ways. First, he apparently (but not explicitly) suggests that he was only unable to work at certain points —namely, at the time of his relapse, when he filed his complaint and/or at the time of his deposition—but that he was not necessarily unable to work at each point since his relapse. The court cannot give Jessup’s complaint that strained reading. Even viewing the facts in the light most favorable to him, there is only one reasonable reading of Jessup’s admissions: that he has not been able to recover from his relapse in July 2017 and that this relapse has rendered him unable to work since then.
Jessup’s second attempt to avoid those devastating admissions rests on the district court’s asserted disregard of material evidence that he could perform the essential functions of his job at the time Barnes fired him. In particular, Jessup points to his sworn declaration that he returned to work for a week in January 2018. Jessup’s declaration does not merely detail or lend context to the admissions in his complaint and deposition that he has been unable to work since his relapse in July 2017. Rather, his declaration that he returned to work in January 2018 directly contradicts these earlier admissions. The court thus affirms the judgment of the district court as to Barnes’ wrongful termination and failure-to-accommodate claims.
Hostile work environment
To show that conduct was sufficiently severe or pervasive to support a hostile work environment claim, a plaintiff “must demonstrate not only that he subjectively perceived his workplace environment as hostile, but also that a reasonable person would so perceive it, i.e., that it was objectively hostile.” Here, the statements and events that Jessup relies upon do not show that the conduct Jessup experienced was sufficiently severe or pervasive to establish a hostile work environment.
Indeed, there is no evidence or even an allegation that Jessup knew about several of the above communications when he worked at Barnes, and so those communications cannot have contributed to his perception of a hostile environment. Statements or acts of which a plaintiff was unaware could of course be relevant to the separate question of whether the plaintiff experienced harassment on the basis of his disability, but they cannot show that a reasonable person would perceive his environment as objectively hostile at that time.
To be sure, the statements and events indicate that Jessup’s supervisors did not want him to keep working at Barnes. But on this record, when viewing the totality of the circumstances, there simply is not sufficient evidence of which Jessup was aware at the time to establish an objectively reasonable perception of a hostile work environment.
Jessup v. Barnes Group Incorporated (Lawyers Weekly No. 001-011-22, 15 pp.) (Diana Gribbon Motz, J.) Case No. 20-1801. Jan. 19, 2022. From D.S.C. at Greenville (Henry M. Herlong, S.J.) William Andrew Arnold for Appellant. Thomas Alan Bright for Appellee. 4th Cir.