Motions for summary judgment denied in former Neiman Marcus employee's claim of ADA violations

By Sandra Lane | Jun 7, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO – Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, denied motions for summary judgment made by the plaintiff and defendant in a complaint filed by former Neiman Marcus Group worker accusing the company of wrongful interference with his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

SAN FRANCISCO – On May 30, 2018, Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, denied both plaintiff and defendant’s Motions for Summary Judgment in the case of Tayler Bayer v. Neiman Marcus Group, Inc. She ordered both parties to attend a status conference on June 14, 2018. 

In this action, Plaintiff Tayler Bayer, a former employee of Defendant Neiman Marcus Group, Inc. (NMG), filed a claim for wrongful interference of his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In March 2007, Bayer was placed on medical leave by his doctor due to respiratory problems and remained on FMLA through May 2007.

He returned to work at the start of June 2007, subject to certain restrictions, including that he work no more than four days per week. He asked NMG to modify his existing 30-hour schedule from five six-hour shifts to four seven-and-a-half hour shifts, which would enable him to continue working 30 hours a week so as to continue to receive medical benefits.  

However, NMG declined to modify Bayer’s schedule in the manner requested, assigning him a work schedule below 30 hours a week, which would disqualify him for medical insurance.  In response, Bayer filed an administrative complaint with the EEOC for his reasonable accommodation on June 20, 2007.

During the next 18 months, NMG made repeated demands on Tayler to sign an arbitration agreement, saying that he would lose his job if he did not comply.

NMG then filed a Motion to Compel Arbitration. In November 2011, this Court denied this motion “on the grounds that Bayer had never consented to be bound.”

NMG appealed that decision. On July 3, 2014, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the Court’s refusal to compel arbitration, holding that Bayer had never consented to be bound by NMG’s Arbitration Agreement and therefore was not required to arbitrate his claims of unlawful retaliation.

Eventually, NMG terminated Bayer’s employment in January 2009, after which Bayer filed another EEOC charge, alleging that NMG’s termination was in retaliation for his previous EEOC charges.

Several additional court actions followed without obtaining a ruling in favor of either plaintiff or defendants. Judge James said, “This Court found the action was moot because Bayer could not obtain any of the remaining relief he requested, and could only obtain equitable relief under Section 503 and therefore could recover neither compensatory nor nominal damages. He also could not recover out-of-pocket medical or legal expenses as restitution in this case.”

In addition, the Court found that legal fees in and of themselves did not resuscitate an otherwise moot controversy. Finally, the Court found declaratory relief was unavailable because Bayer could not show it would serve any useful purpose:

Judge James said, “A triable issue of fact thus exists as to whether NMG’s employees engaged in conduct that a jury could reasonably interpret as pressuring Bayer to choose between his continued employment (and the health insurance that accompanied his employment) and his ability to eventually litigate the claims at issue in his pending EEOC charges in a court of law. Bayer has created a triable issue of fact that NMG did threaten to terminate him if he did not sign the Agreement even after he explained he did not want to do so.  A reasonable jury could find this Hobson’s choice would have a disparate impact on persons, such as Bayer, who had already filed discrimination charges with the EEOC and were awaiting their right to sue letters.”

She continued, “Alternatively, a reasonable jury could find that NMG’s conduct after July 10, 2007 was motivated by a desire to pressure Bayer to abandon his pending EEOC charges. With respect to NMG’s conduct after July 10, 2007, the Court therefore finds Bayer has created a triable issue of fact that NMG’s conduct constituted interference under Section 503(b).

Despite her explanations, Judge James ruled, “Having considered the parties’ positions, the relevant legal authority, and the record in this case, the Court denies Defendant’s Motion and denies Plaintiff’s Motion.” 

The parties shall appear for a status conference on June 14, 2018 at 10:00 a.m.

IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: May 30, 2018.

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