A federal appeals board has reintroduced disability discrimination lawsuits filed by a former insurance employee who accused her of being fired despite excellent evaluations because her multiple sclerosis condition was costly for its benefits.
A key factor in Monday's ruling of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta Jennifer Akridge v. Alfa Mutual Insurance Co. was that Ms. Akridge successfully tried more than a dozen times to land Montgomery, Alabama-based insurers' chief executive officer, but was repeatedly denied by the lower court.
Ms. Akridge worked for Alfa for 27 years, beginning in 1989. In 1993, she was diagnosed with MS, which caused her to suffer from migraines and prevented her from sitting for long periods when her legs became numerous or restless, among other symptoms.
Despite her diagnosis, she continued to receive positive performance reviews and one year was chosen as the employee of the year by almost 1
"The positive work reviews continued until Akridge was fired on December 2, 2016," the decision said.
Ms. Akridge filed a lawsuit against Alfa in 2017, claiming that the insurer had violated the law for Americans with Disabilities by subjecting her to different treatment based on her disability, and claiming that she was terminated to avoid paying the expensive health insurance costs related to her MS treatment.
The company claimed that its position was terminated due to a reorganization and automation introduced to reduce costs.
The Montgomery District Court denied Ms Akridge's efforts to dismiss the CEO on the grounds that he had no material knowledge of the circumstances surrounding her dismissal.
It granted the insurer's proposal for a summary judgment in the case and the conclusion that she had not shown that the insurer's decision makers knew of any employee's medical costs and therefore did not show that it considered her disabled in the decision to eliminate her position.
The decision was overturned by a unanimous panel court with three judges. "The Supreme Court has on several occasions emphasized the need to interpret (the federal rule of law) liberally to enable a robust discovery," it said.
"We find that the district court made a clear misjudgment when it
" Alfa argues that Akridge has not shown that (the CEO) has any information concerning the issues in this case, that his deposit would be unnecessarily burdensome and that it is conducted as part of a "fishing expedition." We are not convinced, "it said.
" It is obvious that if a company dismisses an employee in an attempt to "reduce costs", someone at that company must have access to information on how costly an employee is – including salary and benefits. And "benefits" necessarily include health care provided by employers.
"For Akridge, it includes many high-cost drugs she needs to treat her MS. drugs about ten thousand dollars a month. "
The decision states" we have a hard time believing "that the insurer's HR director" had no information about Akridge's medical costs and termination, "and if he really did not have such information" we see no reason why he can not make himself available for questioning and say so much in a deposit. "
The panel granted the lower court a summary judgment, overturned its denial of motion to compel the CEO's deposit, and took up the matter with instructions to dismiss the CEO. The outcome of this case, "he said, will be quoted by others lawyers who try to get dispositions and are also a victory for the disabled.
A spokesman for the insurer said in a statement Alfa did not comment on ongoing disputes.