Court Decisions Brief
A project of the Southeast ADA Center and Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University

Toalston v. Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire, LLC

Middle District Court of Tennessee
No. 3:07-0506, 2007 WL 2823312
September 27, 2007

Tennessee case permitting pro se retaliations claims to go forward

Facts of the Case

Mr. Douglas Toalston, an employee of Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire, LLC (Firestone) and in the process of filing a worker's compensation claim, alleged Firestone discriminated against him by forcing him out of employment and denying him privileges granted to other employees. Mr. Toalston, representing himself (i.e., acting pro se), raised three federal issues: 1) employment discrimination under Title I of the ADA, 2) employment discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and 3) retaliation in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Issues of the Case

  1. Whether Mr. Toalston met the burden of proof required to state a cause of action under the ADA, Title VII, and the FLSA.

Arguments & Analysis

1. Mr. Toalston alleged Firestone discriminated against him by forcing him out of employment and denying him privileges granted to other employees on the basis of disability.

Specifically, he argued he was a qualified individual with a disability (in part, demonstrated by the nature of his workers' compensation claim), and experienced adverse employment actions because he proceeded with a workers' compensation claim for an injury on the job.

2. Mr. Toalston further claimed that Firestone violated Title VII's discrimination and retaliation provisions prohibiting adverse employment actions on the basis of his participation in a protected activity.

He argued that filing a workers compensation claim is a protected activity, Firestone was aware of Mr. Toalston's protected action, and there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action.

3. Finally, it appears the Magistrate Judge assisted Mr. Toalston to make out a claim for retaliation under the FLSA; specifically that "it is unlawful for an employer to discharge or discriminate against an employee because the employee 'has filed any complaint or instituted or caused … any proceeding under or related to [the FLSA].'"

Firestone made no arguments in defense to the claims asserted by Mr. Toalston. Firestone's only argument was that Mr. Toalston asserted no viable legal theory, and filed a motion to dismiss.

The court indicated that the filing of a worker's compensation claim is a protected activity within the Sixth Circuit (though there is disagreement among other Circuits), and Mr. Toalston could proceed with his ADA and Title VII claims. However, because an individual claiming retaliation under the FLSA must show the retaliation occurred after filing an FLSA claim, the current litigation is the original FLSA claim, and of the alleged retaliation took place before filing this claim, Mr. Toalston did not meet the requirements for retaliation under the FLSA.

Rulings

The court concluded that Mr. Toalston met the minimum requirements necessary to assert a discrimination claim under the ADA and under Title VII, but not for a discrimination claim under the FLSA, and allowed the ADA and Tile VII claims to go forward.

Policy & Practice

Pro Se Plaintiffs

Courts hold pro se plaintiffs to a less stringent pleading standard. The U.S. Supreme Court in Haines v. Kerner (1972) announced pro se plaintiffs only have to show the absolute minimum of evidence for a pleading. In the present case, the judge not only held the plaintiff to the minimum of evidence, but appears to have assisted the plaintiff in clarifying his legal claims.

Protected Activities

In Thornton v. Denny’s Inc. (1993), the Sixth Circuit accepted the filing of a workers' compensation claim as a protected activity, to satisfy the first element necessary to prove retaliatory discharge under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Other courts, such as the Fifth Circuit, have decided to accept only the protected activities specifically listed in Title VII (47 U.S.C.A. §2000 e-3), that is: opposing any practice made an unlawful employment practice by Title VII; making a charge; or testifying, assisting, or participating in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under Title VII.

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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