After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, Sue Bell underwent a successful surgery and returned to her job at Hercules Liftboat Co. after six months of disability leave. Less than two years later, Bell, who was still in the midst of a five-year post-surgery medication regimen, was one of several employees that Hercules fired following a companywide review.
Bell sued Hercules for terminating her in violation of the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law (LEDL), which states that “no otherwise qualified disabled person shall, on the basis of disability be subjected to discrimination in employment.” For the purposes of the statute, an “otherwise qualified disabled person” is one who can perform the essential functions of her job with reasonable accommodations.
In a previous 5th Circuit decision involving a Social Security benefits form, the court ruled that although a worker’s “boilerplate representation” of disability in a benefits application does not necessarily prevent her from pursuing an employment discrimination claim, her “specific factual statements” that she cannot perform her essential job functions should lead to summary judgment for the employer.
“Recognize that just because you have one representation relative to one claim doesn’t mean it’s going to be the linchpin to the second claim,” Hardin says. “It’s possible, but you do have to dig into it a little bit.”