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Maine federal court rules against F.W. Webb in disability discrimination and medical leave case

In a case that the Maine Employee Rights Group (MERG) filed against F.W. Webb Co., the U.S. District Court of Maine has found that a jury could reasonably conclude that in 2009 F.W. Webb unlawfully fired Mr. Crosby, a former truck driver based out of its South Portland location, because of his disabilities and need for medical leave.  In 2009, Mr. Crosby needed two medical leaves of absence from work because he had to undergo treatment for the disabilities of alcoholism and depression, which were exacerbated by a divorce that he was going through.  F.W. Webb fired Mr. Crosby one week after he returned from his second medical leave of absence.

F.W. Webb unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the court that Mr. Crosby did not have a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA).  Relying on the medical evidence that MERG provided, the court rejected F.W. Webb’s arguments.  Indeed, the fact that Mr. Crosby suffered from alcoholism, alone, established that he had a disability under the MHRA.

F.W. Webb also unsuccessfully argued that it fired Mr. Crosby because Mr. Crosby—an employee with no prior disciplinary history at F.W. Webb—unknowingly drove for two days without a valid license.  The court rejected F.W. Webb’s argument because MERG showed that this supposed reason was likely just a cover-up, or “pretext,” for its unlawful motivation.  MERG showed that F.W. Webb treated Mr. Crosby differently than other truck drivers who did not have disabilities or a need for medical leave.  For instance, F.W. Webb usually warned truck drivers that their licenses were about to expire but it did not do that for Mr. Crosby.  Instead, F.W. Webb notified Mr. Crosby that his license had expired after-the-fact.  Also, other F.W. Webb truck drivers committed infractions just as bad, or worse, than Mr. Crosby and F.W. Webb did not even discipline, let alone fire, them.  For instance, one F.W. Webb driver illegally drove a F.W. Webb truck with an expired Department of Transportation (DOT) card.  Even though a law enforcement officer cited him for driving with this expired DOT card, F.W. Webb did not discipline him.  Another F.W. Webb driver drove a truck after he had been convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) but F.W. Webb did not discipline him for this infraction.

Now that the court has determined that a jury could reasonably find that F.W. Webb unlawfully discriminated against Mr. Crosby, the case may proceed to a jury trial.  If such a trial becomes necessary, it will be up to a jury to hold F.W. Webb accountable for violating the ADA, MHRA, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and Maine’s Family Medical Leave Requirements (MFMLR).  MERG is committed to enforcing these important employment laws but, ultimately, we all have to rely on jurors to make sure that these laws are not just words on a page.