Employer Did Not Discriminate in Firing Employee on Leave to Help Ailing Grandfather, 7th Circuit Rules

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

August 21, 2020

An employer that fired an employee after accommodating his leave request to care for his ailing grandfather did not discriminate or illegally retaliate against him, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in Pierri v. Medline Industries.

The employee, Frank Pierri, had asked for accommodations that would allow him to take one day off per week under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for his grandfather, who had liver cancer. Medline Industries granted the leave request through its HR department.

But afterwards, Pierri claimed that his supervisor became so hostile to him that he needed personal time off because of the stress and anxiety. While the employer granted this leave request for short-term and long-term disability leave, it eventually fired Pierri.

He sued, claiming associational discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and retaliation for speaking with HR. The ADA protects employees from discrimination for having a "known relationship or association" with someone who has a disability.

In finding for the employer, the Chicago-based 7th Circuit cited the employer's "ample efforts" to accommodate Pierri's need to care for his grandfather, including modifying his work schedule. The appellate court also noted that the supervisor took no adverse employment action against Pierri, and found no evidence that the employer discriminated based on the association with his grandfather.

It also dismissed the retaliation complaint, holding that the employer fired Pierri for failing to respond about when he would be able to return to work rather than because of his conversations with the HR department.