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Self-Serving Facts Enough to Survive Disability Summary Judgment

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 14, 2015 12:58 PM

The Ninth Circuit has reversed a district court ruling granting summary judgment to Sears in a California disability law dispute. The district court had ruled that employee presented no triable claims because the evidence he offered was all self-serving.

Of course it was, the Ninth ruled when reversing. Self-serving evidence, consisting here of uncorroborated recollections, may not be of much weight to a trier of fact, but it cannot be rejected outright at the summary judgment stage.

And Then He Said, "I'm Discriminating Against You."

Anthony Nigro worked for Sears, Roebuck and Co., when he developed a case of ulcerative colitis which caused him to lose sleep at night, making it difficult to make his 6:00 AM shift. His employers did not respond well to his disability, according to Nigro, and he brought suit under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act. He alleged that Sears violated FEHA by discriminating against him because of his disability, refusing to accommodate this disability, and refusing to interact with him regarding accommodations.

To support his claims, Nigro submitted declarations which the district court found "self-serving." Nigro alleged that his manager told him that "being sick" was "not helping your situation," and told him "you're not going to be accommodated." According to Nigro's declaration, another manager told other employees that Nigro wouldn't be working much longer after he reported his disability. Finally, when he was given accommodations, his declaration alleged, his managers let their irritation be known so that Nigro wouldn't make use of the accommodations. The district court rejected Nigro's claim when Sears moved for summary judgment, finding that his evidence was "only conclusions and not facts."

Evidence to Support Your Claim is Naturally Self-Serving

The Ninth Circuit wasn't impressed by the district court's logic. The circuit court panel, in an opinion by Judge Ronald M. Gould, reminded its audience that declarations are often self-serving. Indeed, that's their point -- they are submitted to support a party's own position. When the district court rejected Nigro's proffered evidence as solely conclusory, it was making a judgment on its credibility, not on whether it met the legal standard for withstanding summary judgment.

Uncorroborated self-serving evidence may be sufficient to establish a genuine dispute of fact. Here, Nigro's recollections of statements made to him, his personal knowledge, and internally consistent narrative, were sufficient, though a trier of fact might give them little weight. After all, the Ninth Circuit wrote, "it should not take much" to overcome a summary judgment motion.

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