No Bias in Firing Mom With Disabled Daughter

     CHICAGO (CN) – A church did not discriminate in firing an employee who said that caring for her disabled daughter prevented her from working weekends, the 7th Circuit ruled.
     Eunice Magnus first began working for St. Mark United Methodist Church in 1997 as a receptionist and secretary. She left in 1998 and was rehired in 2006 by the Rev. Jon McCoy.
     Magnus says her daughter LaDonna suffers from mental retardation and lives in an assisted living facility on weekdays. When Magnus began working for St. Mark again in 2006, her son would take care of LaDonna on weekends that Magus had to work.
     But Magnus’ son became unable to watch over his sister on weekends in 2008, around the same time that the church’s only other secretary asked to alternate weekends with Magnus.
     St. Mark decided to mandate an alternating weekend schedule, which at times required the secretaries to work seven days in a row.
     That November, McCoy wrote Magnus up for certain deficiencies, and said she needed to improve her scheduling, telephone use and timely bulletin production. Magnus protested that she was doing a job previously covered by three to four secretaries, and that her daughter’s disability compounded that pressure.
     After Magnus was later fired for performance issues and her inability to work weekends, she claimed that the church had illegally discriminated based on her association with a disabled individual.
     “Although an employer does not have to accommodate an employee because of her association with a disabled person, the employer cannot terminate the employee for unfounded assumptions about the need to care for a disabled person,” the 7th Circuit explained.
     The court refused, however, to alter a finding of summary judgment for the church.
     In support of her claim that the church used her schedule as a pretext to fire her, Magnus pointed out that the she had been given a 5 percent raise two months before her termination. The court found, however, that the raise had been offered across the board, and was not merit-based.
     Magnus also could not tie her discrimination claims to the fact that she was fired one day after the care of her daughter made her an hour late to work.
     “The decision to terminate Magnus was made the weekend before her one-hour-late arrival,” Judge John Tinder wrote for a three-member panel, noting that there was no evidence that St. Mark was displeased with her tardiness.
     Ultimately the case fails because Magnus cannot prove that she was fired because of her association with a disabled person, rather than her inability to perform essential job functions.
     “Even if her unsatisfactory work performance was in part due to distractions caused by her disabled daughter … the church was not required to provide Magnus with an accommodation to enable her to perform her job to the church’s satisfaction,” Wood wrote.
     “Unfortunately for Magnus, despite the fact that the church may have placed her in a difficult situation considering her commendable commitment to care for her disabled daughter, she was not entitled to an accommodated schedule.”
     Since the church allegedly did not give Magnus overtime pay for weeks in which she worked seven days, she may still seek relief under an Illinois law, the One Day Rest in Seven Act, or the Fair Labor Standards Act, the decision notes.

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