Court Decisions & Disability Issues Briefs
A project of the Southeast ADA Center and Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University

Hagan v. Mason Dixon Intermodal Inc.

Southern District of Georgia
No. 2462639, 2007 WL 2462639
August 27, 2007

Facts of the Case

Ms. Sharon Hagan was employed by Mason Dixon Intermodal, Inc. ("Mason Dixon") as a billing/payroll clerk, responsible for typing and filing payroll documents for the trucking company. After two years of solid job performance, Mason Dixon increased the number of truck drivers on its payroll, thereby increasing Ms. Hagan's workload. She requested that her supervisor hire someone to assist her in the billing/payroll duties. Mason Dixon hired Ms. Terry Sutherland for this purpose. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Hagan suffered a stroke that substantially limited the use of her left hand and leg and caused her to miss work. Mason Dixon asserted that at the time of her stroke the company’s established medical leave policy was six weeks plus accrued, unused vacation time. Ms. Hagan never knew of such a policy, nor was the policy in writing during the time she worked there.

Despite repeated attempts to contact Mason Dixon's Human Resources Department, Ms. Hagan was not made explicitly aware of the company's medical leave policy until eleven days before it was to expire. One day before her leave was to expire, Ms. Hagan emailed Mason Dixon's Regional Manager and insisted she would be able to return to work if given one additional month leave to recover. Her request was denied. The following day, Ms. Hagan's medical leave expired and she was discharged from the company.

During Ms. Hagan's absence, Ms. Sutherland assumed all payroll/billing duties. When Ms. Hagan later sought re-employment with Mason Dixon she was told Ms. Sutherland exhibited superior work performance and independently handled the same workload Ms. Hagan had required assistance to complete. She was not re-hired. Ms. Hagan alleged that Mason Dixon terminated and refused to rehire her because of the disabilities resulting from her stroke in violation of the ADA.

Issues of the Case

  1. The court accepted that Ms. Hagan was a qualified individual with a disability under the ADA without discussion. Thus, this case turned on two issues, whether: Ms. Hagan's discharge from Mason Dixon was because of her disability or was consistent with the company's medical leave policy and a legitimate and nondiscriminatory reason for her discharge; and
  2. Mason Dixon's decision not to rehire Ms. Hagan was based on her disability or a legitimate and nondiscriminatory business decision.

Arguments & Analysis

1. First, Ms. Hagan asserted that Mason Dixon's reliance on a medical-leave policy to justify her discharge was pretext used to mask unlawful discrimination.

She based her claim on the following: (1) she had no knowledge of Mason Dixon's medical-leave policy until eleven days before it expired, (2) Mason Dixon’s medical-leave policy was unwritten and selectively applied, and (3) Mason Dixon repeatedly failed to return the phone calls she made in an effort to discover if there was a medical-leave policy. The court determined that poor administration on the part of Mason Dixon's Human Resource Department caused these conditions, and not discrimination based on her disability. Additionally, because Ms. Hagan did not present evidence suggesting Mason Dixon's true medical-leave policy was different than the one applied the court held that her discharge under this policy was legitimate and nondiscriminatory.

2. Second, the court rejected Ms. Hagan's claim that Mason Dixon's decision not to re-hire her was because of her disability.

Instead, the court emphasized that prior to her stroke Ms. Hagan had difficulty handling her workload and required assistance from Ms. Sutherland. During the time Ms. Hagan was on medical leave, Ms. Sutherland mastered the billing/payroll system and was able to handle the entire workload on her own. The court found Mason Dixon's decision not to re-hire Ms. Hagan was based on objective evidence of Ms. Sutherland's superior performance, and that this was a legitimate and nondiscriminatory reason to deny employment to Ms. Hagan.

Rulings

The court held that Mason Dixon's termination and subsequent refusal to re-hire Ms. Hagan was for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons. As such, her discharge was determined lawful.

Disclaimer:

These materials do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon in any individual case. Please consult an attorney licensed in your state for legal advice and/or representation. These materials were prepared by the legal research staff of the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University in partnership with the Southeast ADA Center to highlight legal and policy developments relevant to civil rights protections and the impact of court decisions in the Southeast Region under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These materials are based on federal disability rights laws and court decisions in effect at the time of publication. Federal and state disability rights law can change at any time.  In addition, state and local laws and regulations may provide different or additional protections. Materials are intended solely as informal guidance, and are neither a determination of your legal rights nor responsibilities under the ADA or other federal, state, and local laws, nor binding on any agency with enforcement responsibility under the ADA. The accuracy of any information contained herein is not warranted. Any links to external websites are provided as a courtesy and are not intended to nor do they constitute an endorsement of the linked materials.

Southeast ADA Center

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