Cases & Deals

Ecolab defeats former employee's claims of disability discrimination and retaliation at trial

Clients Ecolab Inc.

Jones Day client, Ecolab Inc. ("Ecolab"), prevailed at trial against its former senior manager in a wrongful discharge action. In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged that Ecolab discriminated against him on the basis of his mental health disability and his age, retaliated against him for taking disability leave, and violated the Montana Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act (WDEA) by terminating his employment. After the close of discovery and in response to Ecolab’s motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff agreed to voluntarily dismiss his age discrimination claim. Shortly before trial, the plaintiff also dismissed voluntarily his claim under the Montana WDEA. The remaining claims were tried.

Following a one-week trial, the district court rejected the plaintiff’s remaining causes of action, finding that Ecolab had articulated legitimate business reasons for its termination decision and that the plaintiff was unable to prove that these reasons were a pretext or cover-up for disability discrimination. Moreover, the court found that notwithstanding the plaintiff’s representations to the contrary, neither he nor his psychologist apprised Ecolab of when he would be able to return to work and resume the responsibilities of his position. Finding that indefinite leaves of absence are not a reasonable accommodation (particularly for someone with managerial responsibilities and upon whom other employees were dependent), the court determined that Ecolab had the right to replace the plaintiff while he was on leave and that the company did not retaliate against him for exercising his rights. As a result, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s remaining claims.

The plaintiff initially appealed the district court’s decision to the Ninth Circuit but withdrew his appeal before briefing had commenced.

Alwood v. ECOLAB, Inc., No. 1:14-cv-00101 (D. Mont.); No. 17-35348 (9th Cir.)