Hard to Win an ADA Retaliation Claim When You Failed at Your Job - U.S. First Circuit
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Hard to Win an ADA Retaliation Claim When You Failed at Your Job

This case is neither particularly exciting, nor complicated.

Maria J. Collazo-Rosado worked for the University of Puerto Rico, heading up its student tutoring department. She suffers from Chron's Disease, which causes inflammation of the intestines. You're not a doctor, and neither am I, but that basically means she runs to the toilet a lot and has to have frequent visits with a doctor.

UPR had a pretty strict attendance policy about using time cards, one which she repeatedly failed to follow (ostensibly because of her condition, though she even failed to text or email when she was going to be late, as required by UPR). She might have had a fighting chance at a claim except ... she failed at her actual job, nuking any possible claims of retaliation and pretextual termination.

We'll Spot You a Couple Points

Judge Thompson, after running through the facts of the case -- changes in supervisors, performance of the department before and after Collazo-Rosado's termination -- made quick work of the actual merits of the case.

Collazo-Rosado is claiming retaliation based on circumstantial evidence, which sets up a burden-shifting analysis. First, she has to show that she engaged in statutorily protected activity (her ADA-related complaint) and that UPR took an adverse action in response (declined to renew her contract). Then, UPR has to show a legitimate reason for their actions (well-documented performance issues). Finally, she has to show that their proffered reason is mere pretext.

Judge Thompson skipped the first two steps to save us a little bit of time. Assuming she made her first showing, and UPR put forth a legitimate reason for their adverse action, Collazo-Rosado has to show pretext.

But You Still Lose

But she can't. As the court explained:

"[A] key premise of her theory -- that performance and attendance issues are simply post-hoc inventions, conjured out of thin air after the fact to hide retaliatory animus -- enjoys no record support. Actually, and devastating to her thesis, the summary-judgment evidence cuts the other way.

"As for performance, remember how Dr. Scott and Professor Tremont gave Gómez an earful on the center's slipshod mentor and tutor program. And do not forget, Collazo was the center's frontline person, tasked with hiring, training, and supervising mentors and tutors, among other things. Gómez convened staff meetings as well -- which Collazo attended -- to discuss performance fixes, with one idea being offering other kinds of workshops. Recall too how in evaluating her work, Gómez stamped Collazo's net performance 'below expectations.' And to mention just a few of Collazo's shortcomings, we remind the reader that Gómez criticized her workshop offerings, her supervision of mentors and tutors, and her failure to follow the center's written attendance policy; admonishments every one -- and chronicled along the way too -- despite what Collazo now suggests."

Case closed. The lesson? It's hard to win an ADA discrimination claim when you simply failed at your job. Of course, we'd point to the fact that Collazo-Rosado was replaced by two people, so a before-and-after comparison is pretty unfair, but hey -- that's just us rooting for the underdog.

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