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Uniformly Enforced Leave Policies Helped Defeat Gender and Disability Discrimination Suit

We can’t overemphasize the importance of having consistently applied, non-discriminatory employment practices.  While such practices can’t prevent law suits, they can help win them, even in the face of difficult facts.  A good example is a found in a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (covering Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the Virgin Islands).

In DiMare v. MetLife Ins. Co., the plaintiff went out on leave due to breast cancer.  Pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), the company provided a 12 week leave and notified her that her position may be filled if she does not return after 12 weeks.  Going beyond the mandates of the FMLA, the company’s practice was to hold employees’ positions until they became eligible for long term disability insurance payments, up to six months.  After that time, if a replacement was hired, the employee was notified and given the option to either separate immediately (and collect severance) or postpone termination for 30 days during which they may try to find another position with the company.

The plaintiff remained out on leave for over six months.  After her position was filled, she attempted to find another position with the company but was unsuccessful.  After the 30 day postponement, she was terminated.  She filed a lawsuit alleging gender and disability discrimination under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination.

In deciding the company’s motion for summary judgment (arguing for pre-trial dismissal of the plaintiff’s suit), the trial court relied on evidence that the company was merely sticking to its non-discriminatory policies and practices on leaves of absence.  Because this is the way the company dealt with all employees on leave, regardless of gender or disability, the plaintiff could not show the company singled her out in any way.  As a result, the court granted the company motion, and the Court of Appeals upheld the decision.

This reminds us that good deeds can prevail, especially when uniform enforcement of non-discriminatory policies and practices is maintained.  Brody and Associates regularly provides counsel on civil rights issues and employment litigation in general.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.965.0560.