Woman's Benefit Suit Revived

June 12, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A US appeals court reinstated a lawsuit filed by a woman who claimed her employer improperly fired her after learning that her son had to be treated for having water on the brain.

A three-judge panel of the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an earlier ruling by a US District Court judge throwing out the suit by Kathy Smith against Hinkle Manufacturing Inc. Smith charged that Hinkle’s action in discharging her interfered with her benefit rights under ERISA.

Case Background

Two weeks after talking with her Hinkle supervisor about her leave rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act, Smith was fired. The company cited what it said was her substandard work performance and five client complaints filed within two weeks of her son’s diagnosis.
In addition, Smith alleged that her supervisor had told her that families like hers were the cause of Hinkle’s rising insurance costs and were a “drain on the company.”

Smith then filed suit, alleging that she was fired in order to avoid increased health insurance costs.

Appeals judges ruled that the fact Smith had been let go two weeks after her son’s illness was diagnosed and that treating the boy’s condition could be expensive for Hinkle, represented enough evidence to allow Smith’s lawsuit to proceed to trial.

Hinkle has denied terminating Smith because of her son’s condition, saying that Smith’s poor work performance was their primary motive.

However, Smith claimed that she only received one job performance warning as opposed to the five to 50 times the manager warned other people before firing them.
The case is Smith v. Hinkle Manufacturing Inc., 6th Cir., No. 00-3320, unpublished 6/4/02.