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The Law Firm, The Secretary and The Spy Cam

The question for the court was this: Did the Boston law firm Peabody & Arnold fire legal secretary Teresa Brooks because of her physical disability? The firm fired Brooks in 2005 after 16 years on the job. The firing came 2.5 months after Brooks stopped reporting to the office and her doctor notified the firm that a severe spinal condition had disabled her to the point that she was unable to work. The firm had known of Brooks' back problems and had accommodated her with a special chair, help with heavy lifting and time off for therapy. It had even arranged for an independent medical exam by an outside doctor, who confirmed her "disabling degree of pain."

But Peabody & Arnold remained suspicious. Brooks' disability claim came just a day after she had received a written warning about her tardiness and a week after she had received a written warning over various infractions. And then there was the talk of her taking a trip to Disney World. So the firm hired a private detective, who videotaped her over several days in December and January. The video showed her engaging in a range of physical activities, without a sign of her disability. The firm brought the video to the independent doctor, who promptly withdrew his diagnosis of disability. Video in hand, the firm fired Brooks, saying she had misled it in order to collect disability benefits.

On this evidence, a trial court judge ordered summary judgment dismissing Brooks' discrimination lawsuit against her former firm. Yesterday, the Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the dismissal Brooks v. Peabody Arnold.

The videotape showed the plaintiff working in her yard, repeatedly bending over, carrying heavy bundles, walking up and down stairs without difficulty, and walking without a limp or a cane, contrary to her presentation at the IME arranged by the defendant shortly before she went on leave. She was also physically able to drive forty minutes each way to a casino in Lincoln, Rhode Island, and to sit playing slot machines for three hours, while claiming that her back problems would not permit her to sit at her desk and type.

Through this evidence, the Appeals Court said, Peabody & Arnold "articulated a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for termination, sufficient to rebut the plaintiff's prima facie case." If only she hadn't hit the slots.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on January 8, 2008 at 01:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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