Author: Tori Bowling

Federal Jury Finds For Employer in ADA Case

In a case handled by our firm, a Lafayette-based global catering and life support client was sued by an employee based in Dubai for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The jury unanimously found that the employer (1) did not discriminate against the plaintiff because of a disability or (2) retaliate against him because he raised a complaint regarding the alleged discrimination.

The plaintiff had a written contract of employment with a one-year term that automatically renewed if he was not terminated. Upon the contract expiration date, the employer advised plaintiff that the contract would not be renewed for a successive term.

Plaintiff, an Army veteran, suffered from PTSD following his military service and deployment in Iraq.  He claimed defendant discriminated against him on the basis of his PTSD, which he claimed as a mental health disability. Plaintiff further claimed that defendant retaliated against him after he complained to his direct supervisor and the head of human resources about the alleged discrimination. To support his case, plaintiff claimed he was not disciplined before his termination and did not receive negative performance reviews during employment. Significant pre-trial motion practice occurred and framed the issues for trial in two ways.

First, the defense learned of actions taken by plaintiff following the termination of his employment that would have provided a legitimate basis for termination had the actions been discovered before he was terminated. The defense argued that evidence of such “after-acquired” misconduct was relevant to credibility and independently relevant to calculate backpay that plaintiff sought, citing McKennon v. Nashville Banner Pub. Co. and McClung v. Hajek. Over defendant’s objection, the Trial Court excluded the evidence as highly prejudicial, instead finding that back pay was an equitable remedy to be decided by the Court in a subsequent evidentiary hearing related to the issue of back pay.

Second, the defense argued that non-certified medical record evidence submitted by plaintiff was hearsay and thus inadmissible to prove a disability. The Court agreed with the defendant and issued a limiting instruction that the jury was not to consider uncertified medical records for the truth of the matter asserted.

At trial, our client presented ample evidence of plaintiff’s performance deficiencies with respect to the vetting of vendors, which jeopardized the employer’s government contracts and the jobs of other employees. The majority of plaintiff’s performance issues arose in Dubai, plaintiff’s key area of oversight. Therefore, it was unbelievable that he would not know of, or take responsibility for, those performance deficiencies. In addition, the language of the written employment contract allowed for non-renewal of the contract. In a unanimous verdict as required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 48, the jury ultimately found that although the plaintiff proved he suffered a disability, he failed to prove discrimination or retaliation under the Act. 


Staples v. Taylor International Services, Inc., et al., 6:20-cv-00192-RRS-CBW.

McKennon v. Nashville Banner Pub. Co., 513 U.S. 352, 361–62, 115 S. Ct. 879, 886, 130 L. Ed. 2d 852 (1995).

McClung v. Hajek, 79 F.3d 1145 (5th Cir. 1996).

Outdoor Living:  Federal Court Rules That Uneven Terrain in Parking Lot Does Not Present an Unreasonable Risk of Harm

A federal court for the Middle District of Louisiana recently ruled that a 1½ inch elevation change in a Walmart parking lot did not present an unreasonable risk of harm to the plaintiff patron in Lacaze v. Walmart Stores, Inc. The case involved a slip and fall/trip and fall accident in the parking lot of Walmart’s Burbank Drive store in Baton Rouge. The defendant moved to dismiss the suit where the plaintiff claimed she tripped and fell as she crossed the area where the black asphalt parking lot adjoined the concrete crosswalk as pictured below.

In the area where the asphalt meets the crosswalk, the surface presented a ¼ inch to 1½ inch change in elevation. Plaintiff admitted the black pavement was distinct in appearance and color from the concrete crosswalk. Surveillance showed that plaintiff looked down at her cell phone at the time she tripped and fell. Though in a high pedestrian traffic area, Wal-Mart maintained this was the first reported incident.

The Court found the condition was open and obvious and did not present an unreasonable risk of harm. To reach this decision, the Court made the following observations:

  1. Parking lots have clear and apparent utility. Crosswalks do as well. Crosswalks give patrons a designated area to traverse the lot safely.
  2. The likelihood and magnitude of the risk posed by the condition was low. The Court noted it is common for surfaces of parking lots and sidewalks to be irregular, and no other patrons reported problems or accidents.
  3. The cost of preventing the harm was high. The Court would not consider only the cost of fixing the specific injury-causing defect. Rather, it considered the cost of eliminating all defects in the Walmart parking lot.
  4. Plaintiff conducted an ordinary commercial activity that was not dangerous in nature.

The Court concluded that all but factor four pointed to a single conclusion: the 1½ inch elevation difference did not pose an unreasonable risk of harm. The Court reached this conclusion even though the plaintiff retained an expert who gave opinions regarding possible violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and OSHA regulations. The expert’s opinions were insufficient to defeat summary judgment when the condition was open and obvious. In reaching its ultimate conclusion, the Court joined with several other courts, including the following:

  • Chambers v. Vill. of Moreauville, where a one-and-one half inch deviation did not present an unreasonable risk of harm;
  • Reed v. Wal-Mart Stores, where a height variance of one-fourth to one-half inch between concrete blocks in parking lot did not present an unreasonable risk of harm; and
  • Boyle v. Board of Sup’rs, Louisiana State University, where a depression of up to one inch in a sidewalk did not pose unreasonable risk of harm.

Case References: Lacaze v. Walmart Stores, Inc., No. CV 20-696-JWD-EWD, 2022 WL 4227240 (M.D. La. Sept. 13, 2022); Chambers v. Vill. of Moreauville, 2011-0898 (La. 01/24/12), 85 So.3d 593; Reed v. Wal-Mart Stores, 97-1174 (La. 03/04/98), 708 So.2d 362; and Boyle v. Board of Sup’rs, Louisiana State University, 96-1158 (La. 01/14/97), 685 So.2d 1080.

Employment Law – New Statute Changes the Rules on Hiring

Effective August 1, 2021, La. R.S. 23:291.2 will impact the hiring practices used by many employers.  Under the new statute, unless otherwise allowed by law, “when making a hiring decision, an employer shall not request or consider an arrest record or charge that did not result in a conviction, if such information is received in the course of a background check.” This is a dramatic change for employers who consider arrest histories in the hiring process. But the statute does not stop with arrest records.

When considering “other” types of criminal history records, i.e., convictions or pleas,  an employer “shall make an individual assessment of whether an applicant’s criminal history record has a direct and adverse relationship with the specific duties of the job that may justify denying the applicant the position.” In this assessment, the employer is to consider:

(1) The nature and gravity of the offense or conduct;

(2) The time that has elapsed since the offense, conduct, or conviction; and,

(3) The nature of the job sought. 

Upon written request, an employer shall also make available to the applicant any background check information used during the hiring process. While an arrest is not proof an applicant engaged in criminal conduct, a conviction record is usually sufficient to show criminal conduct. See EEOC guidance at

With convictions, the new Louisiana statute places a burden on the employer to make an assessment as to whether the criminal offense has a direct relationship to the specific job duties of the applicant. The statute gives little guidance as to how employers are to reach a conclusion.

At its core, the statute prohibits requests for arrests records and requires an employer to conduct an analysis as to whether a conviction is relevant to the job function before refusing to hire an employee on the basis of a conviction. The statute minimizes administrative burdens when it bars a consideration of arrests. Yet, it sets forth three factors employers must now weigh and measure for other criminal records. One reasonably asks how this statute- which appears designed to limit discretion in rejecting applicants with documented criminal records- will impact “negligent hiring” claims and other areas of the law.

Fifth Circuit Adds Clarity to “Seaman Status” Test

The Jones Act is a federal statute which enables maritime workers that are considered “seaman” to sue their employers for any injuries sustained while on the job. Sanchez v. Smart Fabricators of Texas, L.L.C., No, 19-20506, ____F.3d____, (2021). Because Congress never defined the term, courts have struggled to determine which maritime workers are “seaman.”  The United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is no stranger to this struggle. The Supreme Court in Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 368 (1995) established a two factor test to determine seaman status. The first prong asked whether the plaintiff’s work contributed to the function of a vessel or fleet of vessels. The worker in Sanchez satisfied this first prong. The “second prong” asked whether a worker has a connection to a vessel or fleet of vessels that is substantial in terms of duration and nature. The recent decision in Sanchez helps to gauge when a worker’s connection to a vessel will be regarded as substantial in its nature.

Gabriel Sanchez was employed by Smart Fabricators of Texas, LLC (“SmartFab”) as a land-based welder. Sanchez worked for SmartFab on two jack-up barges owned by SmartFab’s customer, Enterprise Offshore Drilling LLC. On August 8, 2018, while working on the deck of one of the jack-up barges, Sanchez fell and sustained injuries. He filed suit in state court. SmartFab removed the case to federal court. 

Sanchez moved to remand the suit to state court, citing to his seaman status under the Jones Act. The district court denied Sanchez’s motion to remand. It also granted SmartFab’s motion for summary judgment on the grounds that Sanchez was not a seaman and thus was not covered under the Jones Act. On appeal, a Fifth Circuit panel initially held that Sanchez satisfied the requirements of the seaman status test.  In an en banc opinion, this analysis was called into question.

The full Fifth Circuit explored a trilogy of Supreme Court’s cases it found “enormously helpful” in giving meaning to the term seaman: (1) McDermott International, Inc. v. Wilander, 498 U.S. 337 (1991), (2) Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, and (3) Harbor Tug and Barge Co. v. Papai, 520 U.S. 548 (1997). After reviewing these cases, the Fifth Circuit concluded that simply asking whether a worker is exposed to the “perils of the sea” is not enough to resolve the nature element. Under Sanchez, courts must also consider the following:

(1) Does the worker owe his allegiance to the vessel, rather than simply to a shoreside employer;

(2) Is the work sea-based or involve seagoing activity; and

(3)          (a) is the worker’s assignment to a vessel limited to performance of a discrete task after which the worker’s connection to the vessel ends, or

(3)          (b) does the worker’s assignment include sailing with the vessel from port to port or location to location?

The established facts in Sanchez showed that the plaintiff’s work was not sea-based. He had no permanent connection to any vessel. Much of his work involved activities when the rig was “jacked-up” and therefore not in navigation.  Following its redefined analysis, Sanchez held that seaman status was not present because the nature of the plaintiff’s work did not reflect a substantial connection to a vessel.

Merchant Liability: No Evidence of Creation or Knowledge of Spill on Premises

In Cooper v. Albertsons Companies, LLC, 20-124 (La. App. 3 Cir. 10/21/20), 2020 WL 6163099, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary dismissal of plaintiff’s claims against a merchant and premises owner.  The plaintiff, a vendor, made deliveries to a pharmacy on a regular basis.  He slipped on a clear substance believed to be vinegar. The trial judge granted a defense summary judgment, and plaintiff appealed.

Because there was no evidence of Albertsons’ actual knowledge of the condition, the plaintiff had to demonstrate under Louisiana’s “slip and fall” statute, La. R.S. 9:2800.6, that it either created the condition or possessed “constructive knowledge” to defeat the motion for summary judgment.

No Creation of the Condition– In response to the motion for summary judgment, Cooper argued that the size and dispersal of the liquid provided circumstantial evidence sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the merchant created the condition. The court noted that circumstantial evidence “must exclude every other reasonable hypothesis with a fair amount of certainty.” The plaintiff did not possess evidence to show that Albertsons’ employees stocked shelves that morning or even that any employee worked in the area before the fall.  Simply, no facts supported an inference that Albertsons caused the spill.

No Constructive Knowledge– Cooper also failed to show how long the liquid was on the floor before he slipped. The liquid was clear, and no evidence established the spill was visible to anyone.  No footprints, tracks, grocery-cart wheels, or the like were identified to suggest the length of time the liquid had been on the floor either.

Under the evidence presented, the Third circuit affirmed and found for the merchant. Handled by Keogh Cox attorneys, the Cooper case is a recent example that summary relief should be considered when plaintiff’s proof of a mandatory prerequisite to recovery in a “slip and fall” claim is lacking.

“Constructive Knowledge” in Slip and Fall Suits: Time on Your Side

Louisiana’s “slip and fall” statute La. R.S. 9:2800.6 was enacted in response to an elevated burden of proof imposed upon retailers.  To recover, a patron must prove both the existence of an unreasonably dangerous condition and that the merchant created or possessed actual or constructive knowledge of the condition.  Two recent Louisiana decisions demonstrate that the plaintiff’s burden to show knowledge is often difficult to meet.

In Fountain v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 19-669 (La. App. 3 Cir. 3/18/20), 2020 WL 1307417, Fountain entered the store while it was raining.  After shopping for 30 to 40 minutes, he visited the Garden Center and fell in a puddle of water he estimated as 8 inches by a foot and a half.  There was no direct evidence Wal-Mart was aware of the alleged defect.  Without actual knowledge, Fountain possessed the burden to demonstrate “constructive notice.”  To prove constructive notice, the plaintiff must come forward with “positive evidence showing that the damage-causing condition existed for some period to time, and that such time was sufficient to place the merchant defendant on notice of its existence.”  Under case facts, the trial court determined that Fountain had not demonstrated this “temporal” element and dismissed the case on motion practice.  The dismissal was upheld by the Louisiana Third Circuit.

In Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment, Fountain made a three-fold argument.  First, he alleged that a Wal-Mart employee told him that the water on the floor came from a lady who shook a broken umbrella in the area.  The court held that Fountain’s self-serving testimony and reliance upon a hearsay statement was insufficient to establish notice. 

Next, Fountain alleged that a manager’s testimony that a large amount of water was found in the general area showed that Wal-Mart “knew or should have known.” Nevertheless, there was no evidence as to how long the water had existed on the floor. 

Finally, Fountain cited to video surveillance showing that numerous persons could have tracked water into the area.  Distinguishing cases where employees had worked in the precise area of the hazard, the Fountain court stated “our de novo review of the record reveals Mr. Fountain failed to present evidence as to length of time the puddle was on the floor prior to the accident.  Therefore, he did not carry his burden of proving that Wal-Mart had constructive knowledge of the condition.”

Similarly, in Bryant v. Ray Brandt Dodge, Inc., 19-464 (La. App. 5 Cir. 3/17/20), 2020 WL 1270963, summary judgment was upheld where the plaintiff lacked positive evidence of how long the condition (a few spots of water) existed prior to the accident.  The plaintiff argued that an employee who used the restroom approximately five minutes before was the most likely cause of the alleged hazard. However, this argument was rejected as “mere speculation.”

In these cases, whether an unreasonably dangerous condition is present is a critical issue.  However, as seen in Bryant and Fountain, how long the condition existed is sometimes just important.  In many cases, time is not on the plaintiff’s side.

Tori works toward efficient, cost-effective resolution strategies, whether in or out of the courtroom.  When she is not in the office or in a courtroom, she can be found with her husband and two kids at ballfields, ballet recitals or her local church.

New Orleans Ladies On Parade for Equal Pay

When President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, he called it a “first step” and one which “affirms our determination that when women enter the labor force they will find equality in their pay envelopes.”  Despite the many federal statutes passed since the Equal Pay Act, “equal pay” remains a hot-button issue and the subject of protests aimed at correcting an actual and/or perceived disparity. Locally, the New Orleans Police Department estimates that between 10,000 and 15,000 protesters took part in the Women’s March in New Orleans on Saturday, January 21, 2017.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued an executive order during the week following the protests wherein he requested that a pay disparity survey be conducted by the Civil Service Commission.  He further announced a ban of questions about salary history during the hiring process for New Orleans city employees, noting, “It is unacceptable that, on average, women make just 79% of what men make. We need equal pay for equal work.”

Mayor Landrieu’s order is limited to city jobs and follows a year when some state officials, including Gov. John Bel Edwards, were dealt a defeat in the Legislature on a separate equal pay measure.  The state “equal pay” measure ultimately passed the Senate, but was defeated in a House committee.

The right of employees to be free from discrimination in their compensation is protected under many federal laws, including the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Specifically, the Equal Pay Act requires that men and women be given equal pay for equal work.  Pay differentials are permitted only when they are based on seniority, merit, quantity or quality of production, or a factor other than sex.  Of course, these bases provide affirmative defenses that can be raised by the employer in the event of a lawsuit.

Whether the recent protests will become a catalyst for further “equal pay” legislation is not known; what is known is that the issue has been around since before John F. Kennedy and does not appear to be going away anytime soon.

Lawsuit “Tripped Up” by Open and Obvious Defense

Louisiana premises liability law continues to evolve in the wake of the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision in Broussard v. State, 113 So.3d 175 (La. 2013). The Broussard decision was believed to limit the application of the open and obvious defense in the context of a Motion for Summary Judgment on liability.