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Fifth Circuit Holds That Employee’s Failure to Provide Doctor’s Note Confirming Reason for Absence Dooms His Claims Under The Americans with Disabilities Act

June 16, 2016

Mark Oberti writes:

Sometimes, employees ask for time off from work because of medical issues. In those situations, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) may protect them from being terminated because of the time they take off from work. However, if an employer asks for medical proof to substantiate the need for time off, and the employee does not provide it, then there is a very good chance the ADA will not protect the employee if they are terminated for taking the time off from work. This was the situation in the recent case of Delaval v. PTech Drilling Tubulars, LLC, __ F.3d __, No. 15-20471, 2016 WL 3031069 (5th Cir. May 26, 2016).

Danny Delaval was given permission to take time off work from his job at PTech to get some medical testing. After he completed the testing, he sent his employer and e-mail to know he was “cancer free,” but had been diagnosed with kidney stones and an enlarged spleen. Delaval said he would be back to work soon. The owner of his employer told him to follow his doctor’s orders and keep them informed. A week later, Delaval returned to work. His employer asked him for medical documentation to demonstrate that he had been undergoing medical testing or treatment while he was out. Delaval did not provide any. At that point, he was fired for allegedly “failing to show up at work for more than three consecutive days without notifying a supervisor.” Delaval sued for failure to accommodate and disability discrimination under the ADA. The district court dismissed his claims on summary judgment, and Delaval appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision.

As to Delaval’s failure to accommodate claim under the ADA, the Court found that Delaval’s request for time off for medical testing, and then treatment, was a request for a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. However, the Court observed that the law permits employers to demand medical proof of the medical need for time off as a condition of granting a reasonable accommodation. That is what PTech did in this case. Yet, Delaval never provided any such proof, so he was terminated. The Court held that his termination was legal, because it was Delaval’s own fault that he failed to provide the medical documentation that PTech was within its rights to ask for. As to Delaval’s disability discrimination claim under the ADA, the Court found that there was not sufficient evidence that PTech’s given reason for his termination was a pretext for disability discrimination. Delaval argued that PTech’s given reason for his termination — “failing to show up at work for more than three consecutive days without notifying a supervisor” — was false because he had e-mailed the owner while he was out, and thus had notified a supervisor. The Court agreed that was some evidence that PTech’s given reason for termination was false, but that was still not sufficient evidence of disability discrimination. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court’s decision to dismiss Delaval’s entire case.