Worker’s discriminatory firing claim against the Movie Tavern can proceed, federal judge in Phila. rules

By Jon Campisi | Dec 16, 2013

A worker who was fired from his job at the Movie Tavern in Montgomery

A worker who was fired from his job at the Movie Tavern in Montgomery

County can proceed with his wrongful termination claim against the business, a federal judge in Philadelphia has ruled.

Michael Canfield, who began working for the defendant in April 2011, was fired from his position as kitchen manager on March 21, 2012, a move he claims was related to his seeking disability benefits due to a back injury he suffered while on the job, the court record shows.

In his amended complaint, Canfield accuses the business of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

The former employee alleges he was fired because of his disability, a herniated disc in his lower back, and due to his subsequent claims for workers’ compensation benefits.

The defendant contends Canfield was terminated because of his alleged discriminatory treatment against Hispanic Movie Tavern employees, something Canfield strongly denies.

According to the record, Canfield injured his back in late November 2011 while performing his job as kitchen manager.

He was at first ordered to take several days off of work, after which he was able to return to work with no restrictions.

About a month later, however, an MRI revealed Canfield had sustained a herniated disc in his lower back, a diagnosis that required Canfield to request work restrictions limiting the plaintiff to light duty, the record shows.

The defendant subsequently placed Canfield on a leave of absence until he could return to normal working conditions.

Canfield was cleared to return to work restriction-free on Feb. 23, 2012, the complaint states, but within days he re-aggravated his injury, and was again restricted to light duty.

The Movie Tavern was unable to accommodate the light-duty restrictions, the record shows, and the employer soon informed Canfield’s workers’ compensation case manager of its inability to accommodate.

Canfield’s disability benefits were reinstated in late March 2012 and the following day Canfield was fired from his job, the record shows.

Canfield’s suit contains counts including failure to accommodate, failure to engage in an interactive process and retaliatory firing.

He also asserts claims of wrongful termination in retaliation for his workers’ compensation claims in violation of state law.

In seeking to dismiss the suit, the defendant argued that Canfield waived his claims for damages arising from his workplace injury by signing a Compromise and Release for his disability claim, the record shows.

The Movie Tavern also asserted that Canfield’s claims fail as a matter of law because the man is not disabled as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Lastly, the defendant argued the suit should be tossed because Canfield failed to plead a causal relationship between his filing a workers’ compensation claim and the termination of his employment.

In a Dec. 12 memorandum, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson, of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, wrote that Canfield did not waive his claims by signing the Compromise and Release because there is “no reference to releasing ADA or PHRA claims anywhere in the C&R.”

“The C&R was exclusively limited to Plaintiff’s workers’ compensation claims,” the judge wrote.

Baylson also determined that Canfield sufficiently pled a disability under the ADA.

Canfield’s restriction from performing work that requires bending, twisting or lifting anything over 10 pounds constitutes a major life activity, Baylson wrote, and regulations by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission “clearly indicate that Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that he is substantially limited in the major life activity of lifting and thus qualifies as disabled under the ADAAA.”

The ADAAA refers to the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act.

Lastly, Baylson ruled that Canfield has sufficiently pled a disability under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, and that he sufficiently pled a claim for retaliation under the Workers’ Compensation Act.

The judge wrote that he need not decide which date constitutes the controlling start date for the plaintiff’s claims – there is a discrepancy regarding the timeframe between the issuing of disability benefits and the termination – since that is a matter of law to be decided at the summary judgment stage.

“This is sufficient to plead causation,” Baylson wrote.

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