Tennessee Corrections Officer Was Not Discriminated Against When County Had Reinstated Him After Wrongful But Brief Termination

By: Loyd Willaford and Sarah Burke

In Parker v. Metro. Gov’t of Nashville, a former Tennessee corrections officer was terminated after his FMLA leave expired. After recognizing its mistake, the sheriff’s office quickly reinstated the officer and placed him on a disability pension. The officer sued alleging both FMLA retaliation and ADA violations. The US District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville division, found that because the officer was quickly reinstated, no adverse employment action had occurred and therefore the officer could not state a claim under either statute.

Chris Parker began working for the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office as a correctional officer in 2007. In 2011, Parker was involved in two separate inmate incidents. During the first incident Parker was hit in the face by an inmate. After this incident, Parker took FMLA for high blood pressure and then later returned to work. The second time, Parker was again hit in the head by an inmate which resulted in substantial injuries. After being evaluated by doctors, Parker was diagnosed with PTSD and again placed on FMLA.

After his FMLA leave was exhausted, the County terminated him without due process. However, once the County realized this was an illegal mistake, they quickly worked to reinstate Parker and paid him for the salary he missed during his brief termination. With encouragement from the County, Parker later voluntarily entered a disability pension system because he was unable to perform the duties of his job. Even though Parker was reinstated and received compensation for the time he missed, he still filed charges against the County alleging that the May 2012 termination and his voluntary switch to the pension system constituted unlawful discriminatory terminations.

To demonstrate FMLA or ADA violations, a plaintiff must show that they suffered an adverse employment action. Here, the District Court found there had not been an adverse employment action. The County had already corrected the May 2012 termination and provided Parker with full recompense for the three-week period between his termination and reinstatement. The Sixth Circuit has stated unequivocally

That when an employer imposes an employment action that would be an adverse employment action but then quickly reverses the action, the employee has not suffered an adverse employment action.

This case is an illustration of two key legal issues. First, in order to prevail on disability discrimination claim, an employee has to show that he or she can perform the essential functions of a job with or without accommodation. Voluntarily taking a disability pension completely undermined any argument that Parker had here. This because taking the pension was an admission that he could not do the job. Second, to prevail on any type of discrimination claim, an employee has to show that the employer took some kind of adverse action. Here, the employer initially took such an action by firing Parker, but quickly corrected it, so the court said there was no discrimination claim the termination. The movement to the pension plan might have been adverse had Parker presented evidence of some sort of coercion by the County to take the pension instead of returning to work. But Parker admitted he could not perform the job. And he admitted that he voluntarily took the County’s suggestion of the pension plan. So his discrimination claim failed.

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