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Edmonds-Radford v. Southwest Airlines Co.

No. 20-1132.  D.Colo. Judge Ebel. Americans with Disabilities Act—Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies—Disparate Treatment—Failure to Accommodate—Retaliation—Rehabilitation Act—Summary Judgment.

September 13, 2021

Defendant hired plaintiff as a customer service agent at Denver International Airport (DIA) in 2014. During her classroom training, plaintiff struggled to understand the information being covered and informed her trainers that she had a learning disability. A trainer repeated concepts covered in class, and plaintiff was able to complete the classroom training. Plaintiff then struggled with on-site training at DIA, particularly technical aspects at the gate. Although she informed coworkers of a learning disability, plaintiff did not contact defendant’s accommodation and career transition team. Defendant provided plaintiff with extra training, but plaintiff was unable to demonstrate that she could perform the essential functions of the job.

Defendant terminated plaintiff’s employment in 2015. After termination, plaintiff emailed defendant’s CEO, claiming discrimination. Defendant provisionally rehired plaintiff, but she was unable to obtain a security badge from the DIA security office because she lost the necessary documents. Plaintiff did not return to work, and defendant terminated her employment a second time. Between the terminations, plaintiff filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). She later sued defendant under both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act. Defendant prevailed on summary judgment on all claims.

Plaintiff argued on appeal that the district court erred in denying her necessary discovery as to various documents. However, these arguments were inadequately presented on appeal and the magistrate judge’s relevant ruling was not included in the record. Therefore, plaintiff waived these arguments.

Plaintiff also challenged the district court’s ruling that the Rehabilitation Act did not apply. The Rehabilitation Act only applies if plaintiff was subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. Further, the Rehabilitation Act does not extend past the recipient of federal aid to those who benefit from the use of the aid. Plaintiff asserted as a basis for federal financial assistance to defendant that (1) defendant partnered with the City of Dallas for the modernization of Dallas Love Field Airport, for which federal grants were provided; and (2) AirTran Airway, later acquired by defendant, received federal loan guarantees. However, plaintiff failed to establish that defendant was a recipient or intended recipient of this financial assistance, so the district court correctly determined that the Rehabilitation Act did not apply.

Plaintiff further argued that the district court improperly granted summary judgment on the ADA claims. The ADA requires a putative plaintiff to file a discrimination charge with the EEOC within 300 days of the allegedly unlawful employment practice. Here, plaintiff’s second charge of discrimination was filed more than three years after the alleged discrimination, and equitable tolling did not apply as there was no evidence that defendant committed active deception in relation to notification of the second termination. Accordingly, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying equitable tolling and in concluding that plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies as to the second charge of discrimination.

As to plaintiff’s ADA disparate treatment charges based on the first termination, there was no evidence that defendant’s decision-makers knew of plaintiff’s disability, so she failed to establish a prima facie case. Even if plaintiff could establish a prima facie case, she did not produce evidence that defendant’s proffered termination basisthat plaintiff did not meet necessary job expectationswas pretextual. Plaintiff similarly failed to make out a prima facie case on her failure-to-accommodate claim because she did not show that she requested an accommodation in connection with her disability and, regardless, defendant provided all accommodations that she requested. Plaintiff’s retaliation claims also failed because there was no evidence that she made any disability-based accommodation requests and even if she had, she failed to show that defendant’s termination reason was pretextual. Accordingly, defendant was entitled to summary judgment on the disparate treatment, failure-to-accommodate, and retaliation claims.

The summary judgment on all claims was affirmed.

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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