OMAHA, Nebraska — A former eye clinic worker should get a shot at convincing a jury that the clinic discriminated against her based on a perceived disability, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
Cindy Marshall's lawsuit says EyeCare Specialties of Lincoln fired her in 2012 because it saw her as disabled after learning she had entered into substance abuse treatment prior to her employment. Marshall also said clinic officials discriminated against her because of medical conditions that make her hands tremble and cause marks that look like bruises on her skin.
Marshall was required to cover the marks on her arms while at work, even though they were not open sores, and to lay out her medications where other employees could observe them, her lawsuit said.
The clinic countered that Marshall was fired for poor job performance. A Lancaster County judge last year sided with the clinic and dismissed Marshall's lawsuit, saying she failed to prove she was discriminated against and even if that had been the case, the clinic had established legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for firing her.
But on Thursday, the high court said Marshall presented a written reprimand showing the clinic had punished her for failing to bandage "sores" on her arms and that a jury should be allowed to decide whether the clinic discriminated against her.
"Such evidence can be construed as direct evidence that EyeCare Specialties perceived Marshall to have a disability," Justice William Cassel wrote for the high court. "At this stage, the only question is whether this evidence was sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether EyeCare Specialties terminated her employment for that reason. We conclude that it was."
An attorney for the clinic, Shawn Renner of Lincoln, declined to comment on the opinion.
Marshall's lawyer, Joy Schiffermiller of Lincoln, said her client is looking forward to having a jury decide the case.
"I think it's hard for people to lose their jobs when they feel they've been treated unfairly," Schiffermiller said. "It's humiliating and painful, and juries can best decide what's fair."