“In general, we think we have a good chance in this case on appeal because the lower court found that our client had requested a reasonable accommodation and incorrectly held our client did not engage in the interactive process even though he was required by his employer to be off work for four months without pay,” attorney Teri Mastando
A former worker for steel company Carpenter Technology Corp. wants the Eleventh Circuit to revive his disability discrimination lawsuit, saying a lower court ignored his efforts to return to work while the company forced him to take leave.
In a brief filed Monday, Charles Cameron Cooke said a federal judge in Alabama overlooked evidence of accommodations made to other employees and how the company refused to grant him intermittent leave under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family and Medical Leave Act when ruling for Carpenter Technology.
Cooke said the evidence showed his employer violated the ADA and FMLA by requiring him to take full leave and not allowing him to return to work part time or on a fixed shift rather than accommodate his request to avoid rotating shifts.
Cooke said U.S. District Judge Abdul K. Kallon of the Northern District of Alabama disregarded affidavit testimony about his attempts to seek accommodations and decided Carpenter Technology didn’t violate the law.
“Cooke engaged in protected activity by requesting intermittent FMLA leave. Within a month, Carpenter converted it unilaterally to continuous unpaid leave that coerced Cooke into quitting,” Cooke argued.
Cooke, who worked as an ultrasonic technician, sued Carpenter Technology in 2019, saying the company would not allow him to return from short-term disability leave and work only day shifts rather than rotating between day and night shifts. Cooke sought the accommodation after telling the company he had suicidal thoughts and was depressed, according to the brief.
After being denied only day shifts, Cooke opted to resign and find another job. In forcing only rotating shifts, Cooke alleged, Carpenter Technology violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing an accommodation to someone with a medical issue.
In seeking summary judgment, Carpenter Technology argued that there was no direct evidence of discrimination and that it attempted to accommodate Cooke’s request for leave and his return to work.
“Evidence that only suggests discrimination or that is subject to more than one interpretation, does not constitute direct evidence,” the company argued to the district court.
Judge Kallon granted summary judgment for Carpenter Technology in November, finding that the company did offer Cooke a temporary accommodation based on his medical condition and therefore didn’t violate the ADA.
“In general, we think we have a good chance in this case on appeal because the lower court found that our client had requested a reasonable accommodation and incorrectly held our client did not engage in the interactive process even though he was required by his employer to be off work for four months without pay,” Teri Mastando of Mastando & Artrip LLC, an attorney for Cooke, told Law360.
Counsel for Carpenter Technology did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Charles Cameron Cooke is represented by Eric J. Artrip and Teri Ryder Mastando of Mastando & Artrip LLC.
Carpenter Technology is represented by Thomas A. Davis and Kimberly R. Ward of Jackson Lewis PC.
The case is Charles Cameron Cooke v Carpenter Technology Corp., case number 20-14604, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.