Maintenance supervisor fired after multiple surgeries

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Verdicts & Settlements: Employment Law

October 8, 2009

Maintenance supervisor fired after multiple surgeries 

Ryan Liggett, 43, was a maintenance shift supervisor at Ruiz Food Products, Inc., and was on track to become the maintenance manager. He developed a series of tumors on his spleen, colon, and kidney and required several surgeries.

After Liggett’s first surgery, his supervisor wrote in confidential company documents that Liggett was not to be promoted. Following his next medical leave, Ruiz Food executives allegedly complained that he was costing the company money and disciplined him by, among other things, issuing a written warning for excessive absences. Ruiz Food denied his promotion to manager while he was on medical leave and later terminated Liggett the day he returned to work.

Although Liggett found other employment three months later, he has since been laid off. He had been earning about $70,000 annually at Ruiz Food. His past lost income was about $126,300, and his future lost income is estimated at about $567,700.

Liggett sued Ruiz Food, alleging disability discrimination in violation of the state fair employment act, failure to accommodate, retaliation for taking medical leave and complaining about the treatment he received from supervisors, and wrongful termination, among other claims.

Ruiz Food argued that Liggett did not have cancer and that he was not protected under the fair employment act because he was ineligible for medical leave during his first year with the company and failed to formally request leave after that. The company contended that Liggett was fired because he was unable to get along with his coworkers.

A jury awarded Liggett $508,500 on his retaliation claim, including attorney fees and costs.

Citation: Liggett v. Ruiz Food Prods., Inc., No. 07CECG02754 DSB (Cal., Fresno Co. Super. May 13, 2009).

Plaintiff counsel: Shelley Bryant and Amanda Newell, both of Fresno, California.

Plaintiff expert: Jerald Udinsky, economics, Berkeley, California.

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