In Knight v. Barry Callebaut USA Service Company, Inc., the United States District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied an employer’s motion for summary judgment on claims brought by a terminated employee under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).  During the work day, the employee sought “brief periodic breaks” of ten to sixty minutes each, up to three times per day, due to his medical condition.  As the result of a condition flare up, the employee went to the hospital after spending hours unsuccessfully trying to locate a supervisor to notify the company that he had to leave.  (Brief rest breaks generally are compensable work time so time not working would be paid time until it reached about 30 minutes; five to twenty minutes off clearly being described as compensable in the regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act.)

After the employee left for the hospital, the employer terminated the employee days later when he returned to work after his release from the hospital.  The employer’s stated reason for termination was that another worker who was injured while the employee was hospitalized had complained that the employee was frequently gone for long periods during his shifts.  The employer also claimed that there was no justifiable reason for the plaintiff to take numerous breaks.

The Court found a triable issue as to whether the employee suffered from a disability or was regarded as having a disability under the ADA.  The employee’s FMLA interference and retaliation claims survived as well.  The Court found the close temporal proximity between the employee’s e-mail stating that he was going to the hospital and his termination created a question of fact.  Further, the Court held the employee provided sufficient evidence that the employer did not advise him of his FMLA rights.

This case serves as a reminder to employers that termination of an employee who is known to have a medical condition can suggest discriminatory intent. The employer’s substituting its judgment for that of medical providers is a dangerous practice.