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Employer Called Female Employee’s Hands Disgusting Must Go to Trial

Michelle Friday was a manager at a Perfumania store in Indiana. Because of nerve damage that she previously suffered in a car accident, her hands had atrophied, resulting in limited movement in her wrists and fingers. She was able to perform all of her job tasks.
In 2015, her supervisor came to the store for the “shrink rate” count. Store managers at Perfumania were assessed in part based on their “shrink rate” i.e., the amount of product lost or stolen from the store. On this occasion, Friday noticed that her manager was looking at her “very strangely” as she moved products around. He asked her what was wrong with her. She told him about her car accident and nerve damage. He responded that her hands were “disgusting.” Although he had been her supervisor for some time, Friday believes it was the first time he had noticed her hands because she usually tried to keep them hidden. Thereafter, he began treating her differently. He failed to communicate with her promptly, avoided responding to her emails and coming by the store, and he no longer hugged her when he greeted her. In 2016, when the 2015 shrink rate came back, the store’s rate was worse than usual. Friday disputed the accuracy of the count with specific evidence supporting her contentions. The manager never responded to her email or her calls to address the dispute. Instead, he had her fired.
Friday sued, alleging disability and sex discrimination. A district court reviewed her case to decide whether to grant Perfumania’s motion for summary judgment. With regard to her claim for disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it was undisputed that Friday was disabled and that she was able to perform the essential functions of her position. The question was whether a jury could conclude that she was fired based on that disability. Friday’s evidence about the manager’s comment and change in treatment following his observation of her hands was enough for a jury to infer that she was fired based on her disability and that the basis for her termination may have been pretextual. Friday’s claim for sex discrimination was also upheld. Friday alleged that she did not conform to the stereotypical expectation of how a woman’s hands should appear and that if she had been a male, the manager would have acted differently. To support this argument, Friday had provided many examples of the manager’s comments about women, their looks, and how it would benefit the business.