Bass, Berry & Sims attorney Chris Lazarini examined the case in which the court determined that the plaintiff, a former employee of JP Morgan and J.P. Morgan Securities who had been deemed medically unfit to work, was therefore not a “qualified” employee and could not establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

Chris provided the analysis for Securities Litigation Commentator (SLC). The full text of the analysis is below and used with permission from the publication. If you would like to receive additional content from the SLC, please visit the SLC website to sign up for the newsletter.

Gamble vs. JP Morgan Chase & Co. & J.P. Morgan Securities LLC, No. 3:15-cv-0496 (M.D. Tenn., 8/31/16)

A plaintiff who is not medically released to return to work in any capacity and who cannot perform essential job functions is not a “qualified” person and cannot establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Plaintiff, a 68-year-old former employee of JP Morgan (the “Bank”) and associated person of J.P. Morgan Securities (“JPMS”), brought this action to assert claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). In August 2011, Plaintiff suffered his third heart attack and was instructed by his doctor to take indefinite disability leave. The Bank approved Plaintiff’s short term disability through February 2012, after which Plaintiff remained on leave, testifying more than once that he considered himself permanently disabled on the date of his heart attack.

In November 2012, JPMS filed a Form U5 terminating Plaintiff as an associated person for failing to meet his continuing education requirements. Plaintiff received a copy of the U5 filing and did not contest his termination or seek reinstatement of his securities licenses during the permissible two year window. Plaintiff alleged that the U5 effectively terminated his employment with the Bank. The Bank disputed this allegation, claiming that Plaintiff was terminated in September 2013, only after Plaintiff failed to respond to the Bank’s inquiries regarding whether he intended to return to work. 

ADA claims are subject to a burden-shifting analysis, where the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination to shift the burden to defendant to articulate a non-discriminatory explanation for the adverse employment action. If the defendant does so, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to prove the defendant’s explanation is pretextual. The Court finds that Plaintiff fails to meet his initial burden under the ADA. A requisite element of Plaintiff’s prima facie case is a showing he was “qualified” to perform the essential functions of his employment position. Citing Plaintiff’s own testimony that he became permanently disabled on the date of his heart attack, the Court finds Plaintiff not qualified and grants summary judgment on the ADA claims.

ADEA claims have the same burden-shifting analysis and have a similar prima facie element regarding the plaintiff’s qualifications to perform his duties. Under the ADEA, the qualifications analysis focuses on objective standards – education, experience, etc. – but medical capacity to perform one’s job may also be considered. Citing Plaintiff’s own testimony again, the Court finds that Plaintiff failed to establish his prima facie case under the ADEA because he could not perform his duties and grants summary judgment on those claims.

Besides his termination, Plaintiff alleged a host of other discriminatory acts between 2009 and 2011 in support of his claims. The Court finds those allegations time-barred, because Plaintiff’s EEOC claim was filed over 300 days after those alleged events occurred. The EEOC claim was filed within 300 days of the date Plaintiff claimed to have been terminated, making that part of Plaintiff’s claim timely, but the Court declines to apply the continuing violation doctrine to the other claims, finding the termination a discrete act unrelated to the other allegations.