L3Harris Can’t Nix Ex-Worker’s Disability Suit, 9th Circ. Says
Written by: Emmy Freedman
From: LAW360 Employment Authority
A trial court got it wrong when it tossed a lawsuit from a former L3Harris Technologies Inc. worker who said his post-traumatic stress disorder got him fired, the Ninth Circuit ruled, saying a reasonable jury could find that the worker was fired as a result of his PTSD.
A unanimous three-judge panel on Friday overturned a summary judgment win for the aerospace and defense company, reviving Americans with Disabilities Act claims from Preston Lee, who worked for L3Harris as a painter.
L3Harris opted to fire Lee in June 2020 after a November 2019 incident in which he and another employee got in a profanity-laden argument, but Lee argued his PTSD was really the root cause of his termination.
The panel said he had properly backed up that argument, saying a reasonable person could be persuaded by his claims.
“A reasonable trier of fact could find that L3’s evaluation of the November 2019 incident was dispositively affected by stereotypical thinking about persons with PTSD,” the panel said. “And because the decision to fire Lee was made in January 2020, the temporal sequence of events is consistent with a rational inference of causation.”
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In a recent decision by the Ninth Circuit, a lawsuit by former L3Harris Technologies Inc. employee, Preston Lee, was reinstated after a trial court had previously dismissed it. Lee claimed he was fired from his position as a painter due to his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This stemmed from an incident in November 2019, where Lee had a disagreement with a colleague over wearing protective equipment. While L3Harris cited this incident as the reason for his termination, Lee argued that his PTSD was the true underlying cause.
The Ninth Circuit panel believed that a reasonable jury could agree with Lee, especially given his 26-year record of working for U.S. Navy subcontractors without any performance issues. L3Harris defended its decision by stating that Lee couldn’t handle stress, an essential function of most jobs. The panel, however, said that the evidence didn’t show Lee posed a severe threat, and the incident could have been influenced by his PTSD.
The court ruled against Lee’s claim under the Hawaii Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, where he asserted that he was also terminated for reporting a colleague’s theft. The panel found no evidence to support this claim.
Joseph T. Rosenbaum, representing Lee, expressed that the Ninth Circuit’s decision brings hope against workplace discrimination based on PTSD stereotypes.
Quote from the article:
“The Ninth Circuit recognized that the facts presented by Mr. Lee must be heard by a jury as to his disability discrimination claims,” Joseph T. Rosenbaum, who represents Lee, told Law360. “For Mr. Lee, a veteran with PTSD, this ruling gives hope that the stereotypes associated with PTSD will not be tolerated in the workplace.”
The case is now set to proceed further, with a possibility of being heard by a jury.