Lawler v. Montblanc North America, LLC

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Employment Law
  • Date Filed: 01-11-2013
  • Case #: 11-16206
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: District Judge Duffy for the Court; Circuit Judges Gould and M. Smith.
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, an employee whose disability precludes her presence at the workplace when her presence is an essential job function does not make out a prima facie claim for disability discrimination.

Plaintiff Lawler was employed by Defendant Montblanc North America, LLC (“Montblanc”) as a retail store manager. Her duties included supervising staff, administrating stocking and inventory, and creating store displays; her duties could only be performed in the store. Lawler was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis and requested reduced working hours. She was told that the nature of her position required her to be present at the store. She subsequently broke several toes, and her doctor recommended that she take a leave of absence for three months (including the “Holiday Season” in which Montblanc does one-third of its annual business). Lawler’s employment was terminated. Lawler brought claims for disability discrimination, retaliation, harassment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. In a diversity action, the District Court granted Montblanc’s motion for summary judgment on all claims. The Ninth Circuit held that summary judgment on Lawler’s discrimination claim was proper. Lawler did not make out a prima facie case for discrimination, because she did not present any evidence that she could competently carry out the duties of store manager with or without accommodation. Her essential duties included being present at the store, and if she could not be present she could not competently carry out those duties. With regard to her retaliation claim, the Ninth Circuit held that summary judgment was proper because Lawler’s total inability to work was a legitimate reason for her termination and Lawler did not carry her burden of proving the proffered reason was pretext. Summary judgment on her harassment claim was proper because the actions of her superiors were not sufficiently severe to constitute a hostile work environment. Nor were her superiors’ actions beyond all bounds tolerated in a civilized community; therefore summary judgment on her intentional infliction of emotional distress claim was also proper. AFFIRMED.

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