Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Rats on a plane!

When is a psychological quirk a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act? In this case, the Court of Appeals provides some guidance.

The case is Giambattista v. American Airlines, a summary order decided on November 25. Plaintiff worked as a stewardess. Her co-workers accused her of smuggling her pet rat onto an airplane, pushing the false perception that she "had a mental disability because she was unable to be away from her pet rats for any period of time." These accusations resulted in embarrassing searches and interrogations by federal authorities. Co-workers gossiped that plaintiff was "crazy" and had to be taken "away in white coats."

This case got some publicity. Her lawyer said, "Every time she came into an airport they basically stripped her ... "If she had had a rat on her, they would have found it. They never did. Enough already." The district court quotes from the complaint that "The Plaintiff alleges that she subsequently developed a debilitating fear and anxiety of being detained overseas and was unable to work on international flights, causing her lost income."

Under the ADA, you can argue that management mistreated you because of a perceived disability. The perceived disability here is that everyone thought plaintiff was "crazy" because of the pet rat. But this case fails under Rule 12, and the Court of Appeals (Pooler, Parker and Wesley) says plaintiff cannot satisfy the requirement under Iqbal that the complaint allege a plausible claim. The Court reasons it out like this:

Although Giambattista claims that she was subjected to discrimination and harassment due to the false perception that she “had a mental disability because she was unable to be away from her pet rats for any period of time,” Compl. ¶ 2, we need not credit “[g]eneral, conclusory allegations . . . when they are belied by more specific allegations of the complaint.” The complaint explicitly alleges that Giambattista was subjected to a number of unpleasant encounters all “as a result of” the false reports filed by two of her fellow flight attendants. Compl. ¶ 26. Similarly, under the circumstances alleged, the stray comments of her co-workers fail to raise a reasonable inference that American Airlines discriminated against her on the basis of a perceived disability. The complaint itself asserts that these comments were motivated solely by the rumors regarding conduct that Giambattista concedes would be illegal if established.

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