Employment-Fifth Circuit Rules That Summary Judgment Against Plaintiff Claiming ADA Discrimination Was Appropriate

In Owens v. Calhoun County School District, No. 12-60897 (5th Cir. 2013), the plaintiff, Darlene Mann Owens (“Owens”), was appealing the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant, Calhoun County School District (“Calhoun”), on Owens’s claims of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) and First Amendment retaliation.

In this case, Owens, a forty-six year old school teacher, worked at Bruce Upper Elementary School for seventeen years until she was fired on February 9, 2010 by Calhoun’s Superintendent, Mike Moore. For a number of years, Owens had suffered from neck and back pain. These problems intensified, however, and caused Owens to take a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act the (“FMLA”) beginning on October 19, 2009 to undergo surgery on her neck and back. However, when Owens failed to provide the School with a date on which she would return from the leave, she was fired. This suit followed.

In analyzing the case, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) said that it assumed, without deciding, that Owens is able to establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA. However, the Court concluded that Owens has failed to raise a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Calhoun’s reasons for her termination are mere pretext. To the contrary, the record is replete with evidence that Owens was fired for reasons other than her disability. As such, the Court ruled that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to Calhoun on the ADA discrimination claim. The Court further ruled that Owens did not establish a claim of First Amendment retaliation, so the district court likewise did not err in granting summary judgment to Calhoun on that claim. As such, the Court affirmed the summary judgments granted by the district court.