United States: Absence Does Not Make The Heart Grow Fonder: Texas Court Holds Attendance Issues Can Preclude Disability Claims

Last Updated: April 6 2018
Article by Mark A. McNitzky

In Wolf v. Lowe's Companies, Inc., No. 4:16-CV-01560 (March 13, 2018), United States District Judge Alfred H. Bennett of the Southern District of Texas granted Lowe's motion for summary judgment on a former sales employee's claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for disability discrimination and failure to accommodate, as well as her claim under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for retaliation. The court held that the plaintiff had failed to establish a prima face case under the ADA because her excessive absenteeism and tardiness prevented her from being qualified to perform her job. Additionally, temporal proximity between the plaintiff's use of FMLA leave and her discharge was insufficient to establish a prima facie case of retaliation.

Background

Beginning in March of 2005, Tamara Wolf worked as a sales specialist for Lowe's for approximately nine years. From November of 2005 through December of 2013, Wolf received written warnings and negative remarks on her performance evaluations on several occasions for excessive absences and tardiness, and for her inability to complete assignments on time, among other performance issues. On December 7, 2013, Lowe's administered a "final notice" to Wolf due to her continued "excessive attendance problems."       

In the spring of 2014, Wolf informed her supervisors and Lowe's human resources department that she suffered from major depressive disorder, attention deficit disorder, cerebral palsy, polyarthritis, and fibromyalgia. She submitted two notes from her psychiatrist confirming these diagnoses. Wolf also alleged that these conditions affected her work attendance. Wolf then applied for and received intermittent FMLA leave.

While allowing for protected intermittent leave, Lowe's tracked Wolf's non-protected absences and tardiness and continued to hold Wolfe accountable for her other, preexisting performance deficiencies. In an effort to remedy these issues, Lowe's administered multiple performance improvement plans. Lowe's ultimately terminated Wolf's employment on August 22, 2014.  Thereafter, Wolf filed suit alleging that prior to her illnesses, she received positive performance reviews and that Lowe's terminated her employment because of her illnesses and in retaliation for requesting intermittent leave for symptoms related to her illnesses in violation of the ADA and the FMLA.

The Court's Analysis

In considering Lowe's motion for summary judgment on Wolf's ADA claims, Judge Bennett observed that Wolf was excessively tardy and absent from work during the entirety of her employment with Lowe's, that Wolf was written up for attendance issues on numerous occasions, and that Wolf admitted that her attendance was an issue throughout her employment.  Citing long-standing Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals precedent Hypes v. First Commerce Corporation, the district court judge reaffirmed the principle that regular attendance is an essential function of a job such that someone who is excessively tardy and absent from work is not qualified to perform the job. Accordingly, the court granted Lowe's motion for summary judgment because Wolf could not establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination or failure to accommodate. Specifically, Wolf's inability to appear for work and to complete assigned tasks within a reasonable period of time meant that she was not qualified to perform her job.

As to Wolf's remaining claim of FMLA retaliation, the court determined that the only evidence of retaliation presented by Wolf was that of temporal proximity. In particular, Lowe's placed Wolf on multiple performance improvement plans and then terminated her employment four months after she requested and obtained intermittent FMLA leave. Again relying on established Fifth Circuit authority, the court reaffirmed the principle that "temporal proximity between protected activity and the alleged adverse employment action, by itself, is insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact" on the prima facie element of causation. The court noted that there must be a combination of temporal proximity along with other "significant evidence of pretext" in order to avoid summary judgment. 

Key Takeaways

The Wolf decision is an important reminder that employers can prioritize consistently holding employees accountable for violations of work rules—even when the employees have invoked their rights under the ADA, FMLA, or another law. It was undoubtedly significant to the court's decision that Lowe's had been regularly holding Wolf accountable for her absenteeism, tardiness, and other performance issues for several years before Wolf ever disclosed her disabilities. Lowe's successfully continued the performance management process after Wolf notified Lowe's of her disabilities and of her need for FMLA leave by tracking her non-protected absences and tardiness as well as addressing her performance deficiencies.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions