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7th Circuit Judgment on Employment and ADA Discrimination

February 2, 2018

In Ennin v. CNH Industrial America LLC, the Seventh Circuit upheld the district court decision entering judgment in favor of employer CNH Industrial America LLC (CNH) on plaintiff Abdullah Ennin’s claims: 1) that his termination was due to his race, national origin, disability, and his decision to take leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA); 2) that CNH violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); 3) that CNH conspired to violate his federal rights; and 4) of negligent supervision in violation of state law.

The facts were:

November 19th: CNH personnel met with Ennin about his violations of company policies and after that meeting Ennin felt certain that he was going to be fired. CNH personnel met again later and decided to terminate Ennin and to tell him on November 20th. That afternoon, Ennin was given permission to leave work early due to a claimed medical issue.

November 20th: Ennin did not go to work. Instead, he scheduled a surgery that he had previously planned for November 21st. Ennin requested leave from CNH’s third-party administrator. He alleged that he became disabled due to the surgery. CNH learned that Ennin had requested leave and would not be at work that day, so they could not tell him about his termination.

December 1st: CNH learned that Ennin had been approved for short-term disability benefits from November 19th through December 14th. CNH notified Ennin that his employment was terminated based on his company policy violations and that the decision to do so had been made on November 19th.

Ennin, who was from Ghana but a naturalized American citizen and the only black supervisor at the facility, sued CNH. Ennin claimed that he had emails indicating that CNH terminated him on a later date than claimed after it knew that he was disabled and after he had taken leave pursuant to FMLA, however, Ennin’s evidence was not authenticated or considered by the court.

The court found that the question was whether the admitted evidence would allow a reasonable fact finder to determine that Ennin’s national origin or race caused CNH to terminate him. Since CNH offered legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for terminating him, Ennin had to prove that the reasons were a pretext for discrimination. He failed to present any evidence that CNH did not terminate him based on his violation of company policies.

There was no evidence of racial discrimination. In addition, the white employees that Ennin claimed were comparators were not similarly situated because they were hourly employees and had not been disciplined previously. All that Ennin was left with to support his racial and national origin discrimination claims were conjecture and speculation.

His ADA and FMLA retaliation claims failed because CNH made the decision to terminate him on November 19th before he became disabled due to the surgery and before CNH knew that he requested leave. His failure to accommodate claim under the ADA failed because he did not claim that he was disabled on November 19th when he was terminated. His FMLA interference claim failed because he received FMLA leave. Since CNH did not violate his federal employment rights, his remaining claims of conspiracy to violate his rights and his state law claim, which depended on the violations of his federal rights, failed as well.

The case gives a good guidepost as to how timing and knowledge can protect a company’s termination decision.

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