In a 15-page opinion issued on October 4, 2022, Judge Richard D. Bennett granted Lynnette Jackson’s motion to reconsider his previous ruling granting Sprint’s motion for summary judgment on Ms. Jackson’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) wrongful discharge claim. With his published ruling, Ms. Jackson survived Sprint’s motion for summary judgment on all three of her claims, which included retaliation claims under the ADA and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and a wrongful discharge claim under the ADA.
Ms. Jackson, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (“MS”) at the age of 19, worked for Sprint at its store in Columbia, Maryland, from January 2018 until February 2019. During this time, Ms. Jackson was awarded new titles, recognized as someone who could serve as a supervisor and/or manager at Sprint, and commended for her performance by her managers and customers. Yet, in February 2019, just three weeks after Ms. Jackson applied for FMLA leave, less than three weeks after she was approved for FMLA leave, and just four days after she first exercised her right to take FMLA leave because of her MS, Sprint fired her. In her lawsuit, Ms. Jackson alleged that she was wrongfully discharged and retaliated against for taking FMLA leave because of her MS in violation of Titles I and V of the ADA and the FMLA. Ms. Jackson demonstrated Sprint’s discriminatory animus, in part, by testifying about the discriminatory remarks regarding her disability made by her immediate supervisors.
In Judge Bennett’s initial opinion in April, he denied Sprint summary judgment on Ms. Jackson’s ADA and FMLA retaliation claims but granted summary judgment against Ms. Jackson on her wrongful discharge claim. In doing so, he found that Ms. Jackson could not rely on her own testimony. Although judges rarely reverse themselves, Brown, Goldstein & Levy attorneys Anisha Queen, Andrew Freeman, and Lauren Kelleher took the unusual step of filing a motion for reconsideration.
As reported by LAW360, in his October 4 opinion, Judge Bennett appropriately changed course, finding that he had applied the incorrect burden of proof to the wrongful discharge claim. Judge Bennett explained that Ms. Jackson “offer[ed] testimony based on personal experience, discussing specific alleged comments by her managers ‘that a jury could credit as having been made and as evidence of discriminatory animus.’” Judge Bennett’s opinion recognized the probative value of a plaintiff’s testimony regarding discriminatory animus and strengthened Ms. Jackson’s case tremendously. Anisha told LAW360, “We appreciate Judge Bennett’s willingness to reconsider his previous decision and to recognize that a plaintiff’s testimony regarding her employer’s disparaging remarks about her disability is sufficient to meet her initial burden of proof. As a result of this decision, a jury will be able to fully compensate her and award her emotional distress and punitive damages.”
This case illustrates that although difficult to win, motions to reconsider can and should be pursued where there is a clear error of law.